Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Can I grow vegetables?

  • It sounds like a lot of hard work and a lot of time 
  • Maybe you only have a small garden...
  • It probably costs as much to buy all the seeds and equipment as it does to go to the supermarket and buy vegetables...
  • It all sounds very complicated - knowing when and where to plant what...

So, there are all sorts of excuses and reasons not to grow vegetables, the above are just some of them!  It's not really as hard as you might think, don't get me wrong, there is work involved and some hard work too but... the rewards when you are eating what you have grown more than make up for any of the hard work put in (that is if you don't enjoy it - personally I love getting out in the garden and getting my hands dirty).  

You really don't need a lot of space to grow a few vegetables - peas can be grown up a wall or fence and take up hardly any space, potatoes, beans and tomatoes can either take up a lot of space or if space is limited they can be grown in pots on a patio or balcony, it is well worth giving up a little space for these as they taste so much better fresh from the garden, not to mention the health benefits or getting all the vitamins and minerals that vegetables can provide if really fresh (and you don't get much fresher than straight from garden to kitchen!).

Packets of seeds cost less than a couple of pounds - do shop around for these as there are always offers on, plus there are many online seed providers.  One packet of seeds probably costs what one or two portions of that vegetable would cost in the supermarket - you get a lot of seeds in a packet and will soon see big savings on you food bill!  Also, after your first harvest you will find certain fruits and vegetables that you will be able to use seeds from - also see my article on how to get new strawberry plants from existing plants, without seeds!

Knowing what to plant and when can seem confusing at first - I am still learning, this was my first year properly growing vegetables.  I have learnt so much this year because of what went right and what went wrong.  You will find if you decide to start growing your own that you will be constantly learning new things - and no matter what you read you will find ways that suit you and your garden.  

Monday, 27 September 2010

Book Review - Easy Learning Spanish Grammar

I recently bought this book as it is needed for the Open University course that I am doing (BA in Modern Languages - French and Spanish).

I already had the Easy Learning Spanish Dictionary which has been invaluable during travels to Spain and Spanish speaking countries.  I have actually learnt a fair bit of Spanish from it - to me it has been far more than just a dictionary as it has so much more to it.

So, when I saw the set books for the course I was really pleased, firstly because I already had one of them (Easy Learning Spanish Dictionary) and second because I was pretty sure the Easy Learning Spanish Grammar would be as good.

I am so far not disappointed - I have had a good look through the book and read bits and it looks every bit as good as I expected.  It's not just a book of grammar tables - it has descriptions on all the different meanings, for example: pronouns, reflexive verbs and nouns and other things that I had forgotten.  It goes further than that even, it explains how to use words and where to use them but also has many examples of their usage as well.

If you are looking for a Spanish grammar book then I would highly recommend this one to beginners and advanced students alike - it has everything starting right at the beginning.  Also, as you can see from the Amazon link below it is available at the moment for only £2.00, which personally I think is an absolute bargain (it's £6.99 in Waterstones!).  You can just click through from here if you want to order.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Tomatoes Galore!

Outdoor tomatoes
Well, they took a while but now they're turning red, there seems to be no stopping them!  I keep picking them and every day there are more  - great as we use a lot of tomatoes, they most definitely won't go to waste.  Also, there are still so many green tomatoes that I am thinking of making a green tomato chutney with some of them (recipe to follow - when I have tried and tested it!)

It is now starting to get cold so I think the days of tomatoes turning red outside may be numbered.  Many of you may have the same problem and not know how to ripen that last glut of tomatoes - these do not have to go to waste as there are ways to ripen them, or there are many green tomato recipes out there.  I will give a couple of suggestions on how to ripen tomatoes so you can have lovely juicy tomatoes after the season has ended for growing outdoors.

One way is to wrap each tomato individually in tissue paper and place them all in a box stalk up and leave somewhere with good air circulation (cellars and sheds are good for this, remember though that they need a temperature of a minimum 14C to ripen so make sure it's not somewhere too cold (temperature is more important than sunlight - if they have the right temperature they will ripen). This way will take around 3 weeks for the tomatoes to ripen.

A more well known method is to use an apple - put the green tomatoes into a bag with an apple, the gas that comes off the apple (ethylene) will speed up the ripening process.  Keep a check on tomatoes ripened using this method and ensure any with signs of rotting are removed.

Another way is to place them on a south facing windowsill at this time of year, it will be warm enough inside and any sun they do get won't be too hot now.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Grammer time!

As I have just re-started my degree with the Open University in Modern Languages (French and Spanish), I thought I would refresh my grammar and share it with the world!  As I go through the course I will post more on here regarding French and Spanish grammar.
verb is a doing word which describes what someone or something does or what happens to them.
noun is a naming word for a living being, a thing or an idea e.g. woman, desk, happiness, Kevin.  In Spanish and French all nouns are either masculine of feminine.
pronoun is a word used instead of a noun (see above), when you don't want to name something or someone directly.  There are different types of pronoun (listed below)
  • Personal - I, you, her, they etc.  They refer to the person you are talking to or other people and things.  They can be either subject pronouns (I, you, he, she etc) or object pronouns (him, her, them etc)
  • Possessive - mine, yours, his etc - which show who someone or something belongs to.
  • Indefinite - Something or nothing, which refer to people or things in  a general way.
  • Relative - who, which, that - which link two parts of a sentence together.
  • Demonstrative - this or those - which point things or people out.
  • Interrogative - who, what, which - which are used in questions.
  • Reflexive - a type of object pronoun that forms a part of Spanish reflexive verbs like "lavarse" (to wash) or French reflexive verbs like "appelle" (to be called).
reflexive verb is a verb where the subject and the object are the same and where the actions 'reflects back' on the subject.  It is used with a reflexive pronoun e.g. I washed myself, he shaved himself.  These are much more common in French and Spanish than in English.
An article is one of the words - the, a and an - which is given in front
  • definite article - the
  • indefinite article - a or an in English
An adjective is a 'describing' word.  It tells you more about a person or thing such as appearance, colour, size e.g. pretty, blue, big.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Time to plant new strawberry plants

June 2010 - first strawberries of the year!
If you have strawberry plants in your garden then now is the time to get some new plants from them! - no seed sowing needed!

You will probably noticed that your strawberry plants have long stems shooting off all over the place - these are called runners.  On these runners you will see new shoots. These are what you will use to get a whole new strawberry patch - depending how many strawberry plants and runners you currently have.

  1. Pick the runners that look at their best so a couple of healthy looking leaves
  2. Take some small plant pots and fill with compost (one per runner)
  3. Place the part of the runner with the leaves into the compost, pressing down (you may need to use some garden staples to hold the runner in place to start with
  4. Water and leave
  5. Keep compost moist at all times
  6. Once the plants are strongly rooted you can snip of the runner and replant into prepared ground - do this with them all and there you have your new strawberry patch, ready for next year.
New strawberry patch from runners

Strawberry plants in general only last around 3 years so by doing this, you will always have fresh strawberries in time for Wimbledon!

Light and fluffy victoria sponge

The following recipe will give you a really light and very fluffy Victoria Sponge!  Very simple to make and delicious to eat!

Firstly, turn on your oven to 180 degrees and grease 2 20cm diameter cake tins (round) - I would recommend some greaseproof paper too as unless you have amazingly non stick cake tins it does stick quite easily!

The ingredients you will need are as follows:
220g butter (room temperature) - margarine works fine
220g caster sugar
4 eggs
220g self raising flour
a little milk - this is optional but will make a slightly more moist cake
Jam of choice

  1. Cream the butter and sugar together (an electric whisk is the easiest option here)
  2. beat the eggs a little to break yolks
  3. add a quarter of the egg with a spoonful of flour (this stops it from curdling and ensures a light fluffy cake) mix in
  4. add the rest of the egg
  5. if wanted add a little milk to make the mixture of a dropping consistency
  6. divide mixture between the 2 cake tins and smooth 
  7. put in the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes
  8. as usual with a cake check at around 20 minutes - put a knife in and if it comes out clean then the cake's ready, if not give it a few more minutes.  The cake should have come away from the sides a little.
  9. When ready, leave to cool on a cooling rack.
  10. Once cool spread jam on one half, put other half on top, sprinkle with a little icing sugar and serve!

Thursday, 23 September 2010


I am loving having a garden so much!  We moved into this house in December last year and previous to this I had been living in a flat close to the centre of York (about 20 minutes walk).  We now live about 15 minutes drive away from the city and a mile out of a village!

Spring time - looking bare!
Before I moved to the flat I was used to country living having lived in a few houses out in the country and  at least 3 of them had been at least a mile from a village so this part wasn't totally new to me but having lived in the flat for 5 and a half years it was certainly a big change - a very welcome one I must add!

I loved living at the flat due to it's convenience but I was constantly wishing I was out in the country and in particular I missed having a garden.  We now have a big garden - both front and rear which is fantastic!

Kevin made me a raised bed - my salad garden
I have claimed a large (and growing!) part of the rear garden for my vegetable plot.  Although I have grown a few vegetables before I have never grown them very seriously - just sown a few seeds in a spare bit of garden!  This is very different - I have a part of the garden allocated solely for growing vegetables.  So this year I made a start albeit a bit less organised than I would have liked - but it's all part of the learning process and I think I have learned a great deal from this years crops.

So far we have had:

Potatoes - many (we haven't bought potatoes for a good few moths now - we had new potatoes early in the season and we are still harvesting them now!)
Runner beans - these went on for ages and although they are a little stringy now, they are continuing to grow!
Strawberries - we had quite a few fresh strawberries, I have to say though that not many of them made it from the garden to the house as they were so tasty!
Spring Onions - we use a lot of them and we have been harvesting them bit by bit and still have many left.
Beetroot - although we don't use much of this we have had quite a few, my grandma loves fresh beetroot so she has benefited from the fact that most of the household here don't like it (though they did all like the Chocolate and beetroot cake - recipe pinched from my brothers blog, also posted on here, I believe he stole it so I will do the same!)
Lettuce - another thing we use a lot of, we still have lettuces coming through now and looking very healthy.  Unfortunately due to lack of knowledge some of my earlier lettuces bolted (went to seed), the good thing is, I know why and how to avoid it next year.
Pumpkins - these are looking great and starting to turn orange now.
We have apple trees that were here when we moved in and are just ready now - and delicious!
Chillies - we have had a couple of chillies from the chilli plant - and maaaaan they are hoooot!
There are carrots nearly ready and a few parsnips.
Tomatoes are just turning red now - we have had a couple so far and they are so tasty.
Cabbages, curly kale and brocolli are also on their way ready for a winter harvest!

Small selection of the herbs that are growing
I almost forgot to mention the herbs I have grown too - plus the ones that were here already, there is:  mint, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, sage, purple sage, lemon balm, basil and lavender (I may have forgotten some here!), next year there will definitely be some coriander and parsley added to that - amongst others!

>I have to say, things from the garden are so much tastier than from the supermarket and of course being fresher they are also so much healthier too and completely organic at the same time.

I now need to get myself a greenhouse so we can enjoy more all year round!


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