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This week (18-24th May) we are being encouraged by the British Tomato Growers Association to buy home grown British tomatoes, tomatoes are very healthy and delicious whether they are eaten raw or cooked, they are a good source of Vitamins A, C and E and contain minerals such as potassium which can lower blood pressure and calcium which we need for healthy bones and teeth.

Here is a simple tasty idea to use your British Tomatoes:

Easy Pizza with home made Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • 800g ripe fresh tomatoes
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 to 2 tsp dried Italian or mixed herbs or a handful of fresh Basil chopped or torn into small pieces
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground Black pepper
  • Grated Mozzarella Cheese and toppings

What you need to do

  1. In a large pan heat the oil on medium/low and cook the onion until soft and translucent then add the crushed garlic and cook for a couple of minutes, do not allow to burn.
  2. Chop your tomatoes and add to the pan with the remaining ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes.
  3. Allow to cool and blend until smooth.
  4. This sauce is delicious with pasta and can be frozen.
  5. If you are making pizzas with children for speed and convenience use a packet pizza base mix or buy ready made pizza bases, then spread your Pizza Sauce over the base with the back of a spoon, sprinkle on grated Mozzarella Cheese and add your favourite topping the combinations are endless: Ham, Salami, Pepperoni, Chicken, Tuna, Prawns, Mushroom, Onion, Peppers, Pineapple, Olives, Sweetcorn…
  6. Bake in the oven at 230C/450F/Gas mark 8 for about 15 minutes until crisp and golden.

Making Pizzas

Nothing beats the taste of freshly picked home grown tomatoes, when they are ready it’s often a race as to who gets to them first, make sure you grow plenty a lot won’t make it back to the kitchen.

If you want to have a go at growing your own tomatoes young plants are widely available now in shops and garden centres for more information and full growing instructions click here.

Why not have a go at making your own Pizzas this week.

Enjoy

Gill

Dandelion

In Britain, during May, we are surrounded by vibrant carpets of gold, in our fields, along our roads, in parks, on waste ground and in our gardens, they’re Dandelions and they are at their best now. Often classed as ‘weeds’ Dandelions are very interesting plants, their name comes from the French ‘Dent-de-lion’ which means Lion’s tooth and refers to their deeply jagged leaves, their technical name is Taraxacum officinale the word officinale means that it is used in medicine and herbalism, the roots, leaves and flowers are all edible and have been eaten worldwide for thousands of years. Dandelions are full of vitamins, especially A, C and K, and a good source of calcium, potassium, iron and manganese, medicinally they have been used to treat infections and blood, liver and digestive disorders.

Dandelion roots

Dandelions have long taproots which are twisted and brittle making them hard to dig up, if you leave a small piece of root in the ground the plant will regrow, much to the frustration of many gardeners, on the positive side their taproots bring up nutrients for shallower-rooting plants, and add minerals and nitrogen to the soil. Dandelion roots can be roasted and ground to make caffeine-free Dandelion Coffee and are one of the ingredients in Root Beer, Dandelion and Burdock is a well-known drink which contains the fermented root extracts of Dandelions and Burdock plants, although many of the drinks that are available contain just flavourings, Fentimans sell a faithful recreation of the original naturally brewed Dandelion and Burdock drink, containing true plant extracts.

Fentimans

Dandelion Leaves

Dandelion leaves form a rosette and can grow between 5-25cm long, when picked the leaves and stems emit a milky, white liquid (latex) which can be hard to wash off. The leaves are a good food plant of the larvae of many species of Butterflies and Moths including Riband Wave, The Flame, The Gothic, Large Yellow Underwing. Dandelion leaves can be eaten raw in salads, boiled or sautéed.

Dandelion flowers

Dandelion flowers provide nectar and pollen early in the season for Bees and insects and are an important source of nectar for the pearl-bordered fritillary which is one of the earliest Spring emerging butterflies.

Once pollinated, the flower head dries out for a day or two, the dried petals and stamens drop off, the bracts (leaves below the flower) curl backwards and the seed head opens into a white ‘starry’ ball often called a ‘clock’, each seed has its own tiny parachute which enables it to be blown great distances in the wind. Children love picking the clocks to ‘tell the time’, you keep blowing them until there aren’t any seeds left, each blow represents an hour!

Dandelion flowers can be used in sweet and savoury dishes including Dandelion; Muffins, Syrup, Cookies, Fritters and Risotto.

Dandelion Clock

There is a lot more to the Dandelion than you might think, if you are tempted to have a go at cooking with them make sure that you identify the plant correctly and follow the recipe, be cautious if it is the first time that you have eaten them.

I have plenty of Dandelions on my allotment that have been blown in from the surrounding fields, I also have three big plants in my garden which I have previously attempted to dig up and have now won their place in the border, they are stunning flowers and really don’t deserve to be called weeds, my only condition in allowing them to stay is that I remove their seed heads before they open into clocks.

Take a closer look at Dandelions this week, why not photograph, draw, paint or press their flowers and leaves (click here for a guide to pressing flowers).

Have fun

Gill

HEDGEHOG

It’s Hedgehog Awareness Week (3-9 May) with many ‘hedgehoggy’ events being held around the country, it is organised by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and aims to highlight the problems that Hedgehogs face and how we can help them.

There is no doubt about it a lot of you have been thinking about Hedgehogs this week, many of our wonderful Hedgehog Houses have been flying of the shelves complete with Hedgehog Food, Dishes and Hedgehog Guides what caring people you are.

We all love Hedgehogs but rarely get the chance to see them as they are nocturnal, usually only coming out at night to look for food having spent most of the day sleeping. At night Hedgehogs tend to ‘do the rounds’ and will visit many gardens unfortunately many gardens are fenced off, our gardens could provide the perfect habitat for Hedgehogs, just imagine if they were all joined together what a massive area this would be, in fact over half a million hectares.

Hedgehog Street is a campaign by The Peoples Trust for Endangered Species and The British Hedgehog Society which aims to ensure that the Hedgehog, the UK’s only spiny mammal, remains a common and familiar part of British life. Hedgehogs are in trouble, we’ve lost a third of all our hedgehogs in ten years. Their campaign is as much about getting people to cooperate as it is about gardening for wildlife.

Here are their top 10 tips for encouraging Hedgehogs into your neighbourhood

Tip 1   Link your garden

Make a hole in your fence or wall so that Hedgehogs can wander in and out, 13cm x 13cm is big enough but too small for most pets, ask your neighbours to do the same.

Tip 2  Make your pond safe

Hedgehogs are good swimmers, but can’t climb out of steep-sided ponds and will drown, set a pile of stones, a piece of wood or some chicken wire at the edge of your pond to create a simple ramp.

Tip 3  Create a wild corner

Leave the plants/weeds/grass to grow in a corner of your garden, don’t cut them back in winter, include some thick stems or branches to add structure this is an ideal place to put a Hedgehog House.

Tip 4  Deal with Netting and Litter

Hedgehogs can often become tangled and trapped in netting or litter such as food or drink cartons, replace netting with a rigid structure and keep taut, store netting inside when not in use.

Tip 5  Put out food and water

Hedgehogs really benefit from extra food, using it as a supplement to their natural diet, meaty cat or dog food, hedgehog food, and mealworms are all suitable. Put out a bowl of fresh water daily, water can be scarce at certain times of the year.

Tip 6  Stop using chemicals

Lawn treatments reduce worm populations, pesticides, insecticides and slug pellets are toxic and unnecessary in a healthy, well-managed garden, if you have a big slug problem use safe deterrents such as Slug Gone and Copper Tape or try Slug Traps or Nemaslug.

Tip 7  Check before strimming

Hedgehogs will not run away from the sound of a mower or strimmer – check before you cut and avoid causing horrific injuries or death. Single hedgehogs are easily moved, but use gloves! Moving a hedgehog family is more complicated and ideally they should be left undisturbed.

Tip 8  Be careful with bonfires

Piles of twigs, branches, leaves and grass are irresistible to a hedgehog looking for somewhere to hibernate or nest – if you have debris to burn, build your bonfire or move an existing bonfire on the day of burning.

Tip 9  Build a log pile

One of the best features for encouraging all kinds of wildlife – and so easy to make, it will attract insects, creatures and animals and provide nesting opportunities all year round.

Tip 10  Become a Hedgehog Champion

For lots more information and to register to join an army of over 30,000 volunteers all working together to help our native Hedgehogs take a look at www.hedgehogstreet.org

Most of the above tips are very simple and would make such a huge difference to our Hedgehogs, why not see what you can do in your garden, have a chat with your friends and neighbours too.

Work in harmony with nature in your garden

Gill

This Sunday it’s International Dawn Chorus Day (3rd May 2015) so why not get up really early in fact at least an hour before sunrise and you will be rewarded with one of natures finest events – The Dawn Chorus, the best time to listen is between late April and early June this is when you will hear the most species singing. Birds will start to sing an hour before sunrise peaking half an hour before and half an hour after sunrise, birds seem to take it in turns to sing, some of the first birds to sing are Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Robins followed by Finches, Dunnocks and Sparrows and then the smaller birds such as Wrens and Warblers.

Blackbird Nest Box

So why do birds sing?

The main reasons for singing in Spring are to:

  • Claim and guard a territory – They tell other birds that their patch is occupied and that a territory exists.
  • Attract a mate – The stronger and better their song is, the more likely they are to be a good partner and attract a mate.

Birds can make different calls which can either be to indicate a source of food, keep their flock together or to warn of danger from predators.

Giant Fat Ball Feeder

Some birds such as Great Tits and Blue Tits have more than one song which can be confusing, if you are new to bird watching and not familiar with identifying birds songs there are many organised events taking place on Sunday and throughout May, you can go on a guided walk with an expert who will help you to identify the birds that you hear. It can be quite chilly so early in the morning, wear plenty of warm and waterproof clothes, take a hot drink, a note pad and your binoculars or camera; some events have breakfast included!

A word of caution some birds are very talented and can mimic the songs of other birds, one such bird is the Starling. We have Starlings at home that sit on the gutter and sing their little hearts out, they do sing their own song but they are also very good at imitating a Curlew, Lapwing, Heron, Gull, Sparrow and a Hen, they really are amazing.

It really is worth the effort getting up early on Sunday to listen to the Dawn Chorus, you can always have a lie in the day after – it’s a Bank Holiday.

Have fun

Gill

 

This week it has been glorious with long, dry days of warm sunshine, perfect weather for gardening and getting outdoors and also for Butterflies too, on my allotment I saw quite a few including Small Tortoiseshells, Peacocks, Small Whites and my first Orange Tip, they are all stunning to look at, when they eventually settle to feed on the spring flowers.

In Britain there are 59 species of butterfly that breed here plus up to 30 other species that come here as occasional or regular migrants from elsewhere in Europe, but all is not well for these beautiful fragile creatures, according to a report published in 2011 by Butterfly Conservation three-quarters of UK butterflies showed a 10-year decrease in either their distribution or population levels with numbers of ‘garden’ butterflies dropping by 24%.

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Loss of habitat including food plants for caterpillars and butterflies can have a devastating effect, in Spring many species emerge from hibernation and are hungry for nectar and pollen, by growing Spring flowering plants in the garden we can really give them a boost early on in the year, favourite Butterfly plants include Aubretia, Arabis, Forget-me-nots, Polyanthus, Primroses, Sweet Violet, Wallflowers and of course Spring bulbs. Wildflower seeds can be sown now to provide food in the Summer/Autumn they will also benefit Bees and other pollinating insects, there are many different ‘mixes’ available, they need very little looking after but look stunning.

 Short Mix

If you are really keen to do more to help Butterflies and Moths why not consider joining Butterfly Conservation, if you join before 31st May 2015 you can get your first year’s membership for half price, members receive a Gardening for Butterflies and Moths Booklet, colourful identification charts, Butterfly magazines, e-newsletters and more, have a look at their website for full details.

If you have seen an early sighting of a Butterfly you can register it on the Butterfly Conservation website, many of the early Butterflies have already been spotted but there are many more species yet to find, have a look at the list for the species that still haven’t been seen yet this year and keep your eyes peeled.

Which reminds me I must report my Orange Tip Butterfly sighting on the BIG Spring Watch website, they are also asking you to register your first sightings of a Swallow (which are returning from Africa), an Oak Leaf and a Seven Spot Ladybird all the sightings will be studied and used to help save and conserve our wildlife and provide a picture of how it’s doing.

So get out this weekend and get spotting!

Gill

National Gardening Week (13-19 April 2015) was launched four years ago by the RHS and since then has grown into the country’s biggest celebration of gardening. Thousands of people, gardens, charities, retailers, culture and heritage organisations and groups get involved with many events and activities being held up and down the country from beginner’s workshops to guided walks, face painting to garden parties, there’s something for everyone and everyone is invited. Find out what’s on.

There are plenty of things you can do yourself or with your family to get into the spirit of National Gardening Week here is my suggestion:

Sow some seeds

Having been a gardener for most of my life, I must have sown thousands and thousands of seeds, yet I am still excited when they grow and appear out of the compost, it’s magical and also amazing to think that vegetables, flowers, grasses and even trees all start from a small seed.

If you are new to gardening, sowing seeds can be a bit daunting and perhaps scary, why not start off with something very simple that is quick to grow and can be picked and eaten straight away, I remember growing Cress when I was at Primary School. Cress Seeds can be grown on compost in a seed tray or pot, or on kitchen roll or cotton wool; they germinate quickly, grow fast and need very little attention.

Mustard and Cress ready to eat

Grow speedy Cress in a pot

Fast growing crops are best for children, fill your pots with compost, water then sprinkle your Cress seeds onto the surface place in a bright position and watch them grow, simply cut with scissors just above the compost level when ready, usually 7-14 days after sowing, and eat fresh. A brightly coloured Children’s Mini Propagator Kit is the perfect introduction for your budding gardener to sow and grow their seeds and will fit neatly on the windowsill.

 

1. Cress Heads

  1. Decorate a small plant pot or empty container with a happy, funny or scary face using paint, felt tips or crayons, why not add some sequins, wool, glitter.
  2. Once your decorations have dried, place some compost inside the pot, water and sow some cress seeds on top.
  3. Place on a windowsill and water carefully when it starts to dry out.
  4. When the Cress has grown, give your Cress head a ‘haircut’ and enjoy.

Cress Cotton Wool Lamb

2. Cotton Wool Cress Lamb

What you will need

  • Plastic or Polystyrene disposable plates
  • Coloured Felt tips
  • Cotton Wool
  • Glue
  • Cress Seeds

What you need to do

  1. Draw a lamb on the plate, give him/her a large body.
  2. Spread some glue on the lambs body and press on a piece of cotton wool, allow to dry.
  3. Carefully wet the cotton wool.
  4. Sprinkle your cress seeds on the cotton wool and place on a light windowsill, keep the cotton wool moist.
  5. Watch your seeds grow, they will be ready to eat in 7-14 days, simply cut with scissors and enjoy.

Have fun

Gill

They say what a difference a day makes; it’s not only a day but a week too, last week it was cold we had wind, gales, rain and wintry showers, this week it is settled and dry with light winds, and sunshine, the weather is just like life full of ups and downs.

The final image.

A couple of months ago I received an email from Toni Abram who is the founder of the website ‘The Information Point for Centronuclear and Myotubular Myopathy’. The Centronuclear Myopathies are a family of rare inherited neuromuscular diseases, which can affect children and adults, and causes muscle deterioration and weakness affecting breathing, feeding and movement making simple everyday tasks such as walking up stairs, rising from a sitting position unaided, lifting and carrying and opening bottles difficult and often impossible.

After Toni and her father were diagnosed with the condition in 1998, she soon realised that it was relatively unknown and information was hard to find so Toni set up a website to help others in their search for information and to bring those with the condition together, whatever their age, whatever form of the condition they have and wherever they may be in the world; and to create awareness of this rare condition.

Bright, vibrant Sunflowers are featured on the website and were chosen for the cheery and positive outlook they convey they can grow to such dizzy heights, as if they are on a mission to touch the sky and nothing can hold them back, I cannot think of a more appropriate flower to use.

The Big Sunflower Project

The Sunflowers were the inspiration for their now annual Big Sunflower Project, which was started in 2011, and raises awareness of centronuclear and myotubular myopathy. The aim of the project is to get as many people as possible growing sunflowers, participants can obtain their own seeds or request seeds from The Information Point by emailing their name and address with the subject line ‘The Big Sunflower Project’, you can request seeds for yourself or on behalf of a group in return just send them photographs of your sunflowers, either as they grow or when they are in full bloom, which will then be displayed on their website, newsletters and on social media.

Sunflowers are easy to germinate and grow and a favourite with all children so why not grow some this year, they are stunning to look at and will brighten up any corner of your garden, as well as taking part in The Big Sunflower Project by growing them you will also be providing a good source of nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies, moths, hoverflies and other insects and the seeds will be enjoyed by the birds in Autumn/Winter.

For more information have a look at their website –

The Information Point for Centronuclear and Myotubular Myopathy

The Big Sunflower Project

I grow Sunflowers each year and will be sowing my seeds at the end of April/early May, here is a picture of Thomas with some giant ones.

T and our Sunflowers

For more information on ‘How to grow Giant Sunflowers’ click here.

Have fun and enjoy the sunshine

Gill

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