Wednesday, 21 December 2011

allotment news - 21/12/11

It's some time since I have had chance to update the blog, what with rushing around the children every weekend and sometimes during the week, things on at their schools etc.

I have just picked the two last ordinary tomatoes and last cherry tomato from the office plants, although I am going to do what we have successfully done with the tomato plant at home - prune it right back, let it grow shoots from the stem and enjoy tomatoes again by early spring! (I hope...)

In the allotment my wife has finished digging up all the stray potatoes and digging the patch over. We have got winter onions in and garlic at the top end where the beans were.

First time we have grown sprouts - two plants looking good, should be ok for Christmas dinner - although it is not me that eats them!

We also have occasional brocolli, both green and purple shooting, plenty of parsnips still, some beetroot, plenty of leeks.

We have potatoes and onions and garlic in store, we have just finished the apples.

4 or 5 allotment vegetables in December isn't bad for a meal!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

pumpkin chutney (and the big stink!)

As it's getting a lot colder now (frost predicted tonight as I write this) and the 2 pumpkins in the allotment looked ready, I picked them on Saturday and proceeded to turn them into chutney.

The variety of pumpkin is "Turk's Turban" - you can see why from the picture above.

Now, these pumpkins were really tough to get through - I still have the blisters from peeling and chopping them! However, there was much more flesh per pumpkin than you get in the traditional ones for Halloween, and a lot fewer seeds.

So, once chopped up finely it is time for some cooking



I'm using just over half a bottle of Sarson's pickling vinegar (like most other British brands nowadays it is owned by another company, in this case Crosse and Blackwell, though I would imagine someone else owns them by now....). It's ready spiced so there is no messing around with a small muslin bag of pickling spices - you can of course do this if you have your own secret pickling recipe!
Also a 500g bag of dark brown sugar, some ginger, curry powder and garam masala, although of course you can add your own spices to taste.

The pumpkin was chopped up quite fine into rough cubes about 1cm cubed.

Now for the bubbling, and this is where the big stink comes in...



This is the chutney bubbling away in my mum's jam pan that I think dates from pre-war and didn't get melted down for Spitfires... It's steaming away just as much as the Icelandic hot springs we saw last year, and although not a sulphur smell, it is really quite a strong vinegar smell.
So much so that when my daughter came back up the street from a walk she could smell it from 3 houses down the road!

Anyway, the two pumpkins made 7 jars of chutney, now all I have got to do is keep my hands off them for a month or two while they mature!


Sunday, 9 October 2011

late peas

These peas are still going, as long as the weather holds out then we shall be eating fresh peas at the end of October!

Sunflowers

The unusually warm and summery weather for the first weekend in October gave a new lease of life to various things, such as the sunflowers, but also the sweetcorn and the courgettes.

Allotment Report 9/10/11 - Still harvesting!

I don't know whether it was because everything got off to a bit of a slow start this year, but we are still harvesting plenty from the allotment.

The prettiest things have got to be what we think are borlotti beans  - we really ought to keep a better track of what we put in! However, these are the first of our "drying" beans to be ready to pick and store, the pods were dry almost to the point of cracking open. The unusually hot and dry weather during the past week or two (last weekend was 30 deg C - in October!!!!) has really helped, although I presume nature is a bit confused having gone from a not very warm summer into an autumn storm and then back to the highest temperatures since May! Autumn has now resumed with a wet and windy weekend....

This lunchtime have picked beetroot, broccoli, a leek (first one this season), and quite a number of reasonable carrots most of which have avoided the dreaded carrot flies... We are going back over the potato patch to locate any that we have missed first time round so we don't end up with potatoes in the middle of the peas next year!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

unexpected Hazelnuts!

At the back of our allotment is a small tree which is a good perch for the local birds. The other day, after a early autumn gale I noticed a hazelnut on the ground, just assumed it has been blown by the wind into the allotment. A day or two after I was in the allotment with one of my daughters, she found another one and we looked up and noticed that the tree had some hazelnuts! Now, having had the allotment over 5 years and the tree being there for all of that time it was quite a pleasant surprise! It will also be a time saver as I have been going up to a local wood (about a mile away) to forage for them.

Anyway, we roasted them in their shells and they are pretty good!
Hope next year we get lots as the tree matures!

apples and more apples....

Just stored away one minarette tree worth of apples - at least 70 in all - not bad for a 4 year old tree! We have three minarette apple trees, the allotments do not allow any large ones, although that doesn't seem to have stopped them growing in some allotments! I think it's the problem of removing them if someone gives up, but one allotment has been cleared recently and they left the two big apple trees, so maybe not.

Anyway, here's one of the trees, this one and the one next to it seem to be a bit later than the one by the fence, and so some of these aren't quite ready yet, but we've tried one which came off easily and it was alright.

So, I have just spent the evening stroring apples. I need to get some more boxes from the supermarket, I went in one in north Leeds the other day and the assistant looked at me a bit blank when I asked for apple trays and boxes, and went off to get someone else! Happily he did know what I was on about and so I got a big box and some of those dimply cardboard trays. Needs some more though.

We should have apples until Christmas all being well, I hope I am storing them correctly, I have left gaps for the air to flow round the apples and not packed them too tightly. They are in our porch where we also store the potatoes and so they should be ok, it's not too cold in that corner.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

potato packing

We have a lot of potatoes! Every year, assuming they don't get blight, we have our own potatoes until well into the New Year, sometimes until March. In fact this year we only bought one sack of potatoes (from a farm on the Yorkshire Wolds near Fridaythorpe) to last us until we had our own from July!

In order to keep our potatoes in store successfully, I take quite a bit of care with the packing.

First, I allow the potatoes to dry a bit on the soil as I dig them up.

 Then, when I get them back to the house I clean them up with a old teatowel, and sort out any that won't store (there's always one or two that end up chipped with the fork no matter how careful you are, and there's a few with holes in - red ones don't get as many holes as white ones in our allotment).

Then, as you can see below, I put them in cardboard boxes, and separate them from each other with cardboard dividers

Then of course cover them up with cardboard and store them in a cool dry place. And number the boxes so you know which to use first!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

bird life in the allotment

The allotments are a very good area for bird life, you have the common species and a few different ones

Seen over past few days

2 Wrens - one juvenile - they make a lot of noise for such a small bird
A robin that thinks that I ought not be in his territory!
A chiffchaff somewhere - heard not seen, on migration
2 Long-tailed Tits,
Blue Tit
Coal Tit
Around also Woodpigeons, jackdaws, swallows, goldfinches

Over past few years we have had flyovers from a heron (used to be regular morning and night to and from feeding ground), red kite (one of a number released from Harewood a few years ago), cuckoo, curlew, sparrowhawk, ducks, lapwings among others. Linnets and thrushes visit at various times.

allotment report

Bit of a while since I reported on the allotment, that's mainly because it been a busy time there!

8 trays of potatoes harvested for storing, plus a whole box full of ones that won't be good for storing - the chipped ones and ones with holes in etc. Still over a third of the patch to go!

Far too many runner beans!

Far too many courgettes! http://cashandcarrots.blogspot.com/2011/07/allotment-report.html

Apples not quite ready yet, but damsons all picked and frozen for later jam making

Beetroot really slow this yet - will stick to Boltardy next year rather than the italian striped ones - Chioggia I think they were or something sounding like that.

Peas - first lot dying off now, but next lot coming along fine.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

stock markets - following like sheep...

This past week has seen the stock markets round the globe go into nose dive. Yes, there are issues with growth and debt in all sorts of countries, the downgrade by one of the ratings agencies of the US etc etc. However, what I don't get is why all shares seem to have nose dived - including perfectly sound companies with plenty of cash in the bank, assets in the ground, sales etc. Now I always thought that if a company did well, it's share price goes up, if it does badly the share price goes down, but the amount of manipulation, shorting etc I have seen during the past couple of years I have been owning shares has thoroughly dispelled that impression!
Now, in a sense I think this is some of the same, the same traders that are selling shares - presumably at a profit from the last time they bought cheap shares - will buy on the cheap at the bottom of the markets, the share price goes up and therefore make another profit. That's all very well when you have 24/7 access to trading screens and squillions of pounds to move around at the touch of a button, but where does it leave the private investor who can't react that quickly.
I have heard that fund managers all seem to react in the same way, fearful of not doing what their peers are doing for fear of getting it wrong. Now surely a fund manager ought to act in the best interests of the fund holders, basing that judgement on their own funds and shares, not just selling when everyone else is selling.

Now, when the problem is of sovereign debt primarily, and many companies are indeed still turning a profit, do all shares suddenly become much less value?

The following link, to a sadly now defunct blog is some explanation of this

office tomatoes

First tomatoes from the office!
The office greenhouse is getting busy! This is the first tomato from the three plants I have in the window. Today I also picked two cherry tomatoes from one of other plants

oops...marrows!

This is what happens when you go away for a few days and come back to the courgettes!

Still, nothing wasted, these will form the basis of a chutney, adding dates and spices as well.
(unfortunately can't grow dates in the north of England!)

Sunday, 31 July 2011

allotment report

Pea season in full swing after not getting off to a very quick start with the dryness in April. Most peas free from maggots thanks to an organic garlic barrier spray.

Blackberries now in full flow - freezer can't keep up!

Loads of courgettes, and as usual you start to run out of ideas for cooking them! Our favourite way is to shallow fry them with garlic and maybe some italian seasoning. I find they taste a bit bland just on their own, although they are nice in curries, stir fries etc.
For more ideas, and the feeling that you are not alone, try this book - What will I do with all those Courgettes!

bacon and eggs

Today the kids wanted me to build a fire and cook something! Now, I have never been very good at building fires, more especially getting them to stay lit! But after success last week - toasted bread and one very overdone jacket potato, I decided to get some bacon and cook that. The photo is taken in our back yard, as this was more sheltered than the front garden. Back bacon - the leanest sort - unless you particularly like lots of fat then it is the best cut to go for.
Anyway, successfully cooked 6 slices of bacon although had to get the fire going again mid way through as the embers were cooling down too much for cooking on, and then popped two eggs in and my kids and a friend of theirs ate their way through bacon and fried egg butties!

summer pruning

Now I don't know about you, but I find pruning just a wee bit complicated! I mean, what does a basal cluster look like! (I do know now, but when presented with a 4 page guide from Ken Muir fruit growers
http://www.kenmuir.co.uk/index.php?route=product/category&path=35
to looking after your fruit trees it all seems a bit baffling at first.

Now, just now I am summer pruning the top growth from the little minarette fruit trees with have. This year a late frost did not get the blossom and I think the long hard winter we had did a world of good in killing off the nasties (it also killed a lot of nice-ies like owls but that's another topic!). So we have very much laden apple trees and a reasonable number of damsons.

Back to the pruning, and the damson was fairly easy, 12 inches from the root of the branch of non fruiting spurs chop off the rest of the branch. The apples, well I am going to leave those for my wife to do, it's the basal clusters again and rather than me advise you in a way that totally ruins your apple tree you would be as well to consult the Ken Muir guide or the internet!

Now, when we had a rabbit, he would happily much fruit tree trimmings, as well as blackberry and raspberry leaves, or of course you can shred them to use as mulch or burn them - putting the ash onto the allotment of course.

The raspberries are pretty straightforward as well, it's easy to see which is the old wood that has fruited and which is the new wood. Chop to the base of the old wood and leave the new canes for next year, tie them up if you wish although ours tend to grow freestanding now.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Food for Free

Just re-reading Richard Mabey's well known Food For Free book, of which I have got the Collins gem pocket edition - just handy for putting in your pocket or rucksack when out in the countryside.

The book itself, after a little bit of blurb about the author and his reasons for writing (and updating in 2003) this book, gets on with descriptions and pictures of easily recognisable plants, mushrooms and seashore life that are edible either raw or cooked. Quite a few cooking tips and recipes as well, along with a bit of history of how these foods were used in the past.

What have I found and tried? Well...

Beech Nuts - dried, salted and roasted in the oven for 20-30 minutes or so, they taste a little like salted peanuts but are  a bit more crunchy.

Dandelion root Coffee - dry out some really long dandelion roots, clean up and peel. Again roast in oven until crisp and brittle. Then grind up. Can then be used in a cafetiere or in a small tea bag as an infusion. Tastes ok, though don't expect it to taste of coffee or tea!

Acorn Coffee - collect ripe acorns and dry out. Peel and then leach in water for 24 hours, and then again. This has the effect of removing quite a bit of the tannin which is not good for you in large doses. Then dry and roast and grind etc as per dandelion coffee.
This is "ersatz coffee" used in the Second World War - tastes better than dandelion but I am told it's not a good idea to consume large doses of it as there is a very small trace of cyanide in acorns!
However I am still here!!!!
Tastes better than dandelion. more mellow flavour not unlike the "Camp" coffee you got once upon a time...

Goose Grass seed coffee - dry and roast and grind as per dandelion. Need a lot of goose grass pods to make a decent amount. Worth a try to see if you like it....

Sweet Chestnuts - most people I am sure will have had roasted sweet chestnuts from a city street vendor at some point. Now, two things which we have found out the hard way....
1. Make sure you slit or prick your chestnuts before putting them in the oven!!!! A long time ago, long before we had this book, we tried some. Shoved them straight in the oven. After the appropriate amount of time, we opened the oven door, and had small hard missiles firing out all over the kitchen!
2. Don't rely on the one unslit chestnut you put in as a guide to see if the rest are done. If it doesn't pop you don't realise they are ready!

Fat Hen - doesn't taste very nice raw but apparantly tastes like cooked spinach when boiled.


Saturday, 16 July 2011

waste not...

Just a few tips on how things can be re-used:

1. Yoghurt pots - for seedlings, particularly beans - the best ones are such as the Ski or large Muller Rice or Longley Farm (the latter probably the best yoghurts on the planet i.m.o.! and I am not paid to say that!)

USe as slug traps as well, fill with cheap beer - don't tell the assistant as I did that their cheap own brand supermarket beer was going to be used to entice slugs! they get a bit upset!

Don't use for putting paint brush cleaner in - although it si quite interesting to watch the bottom of the yoghurt collapse over the few days as the substances react!

2. Plastic bags - re use as bin bags, compost bags in the kitchen, wash out clear freezer/food type ones and use again and again, use these also to cover propagating plants

3. packaging - bubble wrap for reuse in parcels, again as covering propagation, the big bubble ones - beside being excellent to jump on and scare people out of their wits - can be used as insulation around outdoor plants. Boxes for storage, for doll's or Sylvanian houses, for potato storage - we put cardboard dividers between each potato to stop any contagion if one goes off - you can't check in a sack...

4. Plastic bottles - cut ends off and use as cloches or slug traps or protection around brassicas etc. John Seymour ( http://cashandcarrots.blogspot.com/2011/07/john-seymour-and-self-sufficiency.html) has these linked together with hose to produce a basic hot water system for an outdoor shower.

5. Paper - re-use as scrap paper if not printed both sides, put newspapers under pets in hutches and then compost these and the hay, droppings etc, use shredding for packaging.

6. Water - now again John Seymour and indeed in many other similar books have ideas around "grey water" i.e from baths, sinks, washing etc, these require systems in place and filters to run back into certain parts of the house water system. We use the water from washing vegetables on yard plants and pots. Diluted wee can be used for plants that require a more acid feed - I have taken the potty up to the allotment, diluted the contents with rainwater and used it for the blueberry bush, or it can be added straight into the compost heap as an activator.
One of the old chaps that used to have an allotment near ours said about someone that "they emptied (the) piss-pot over t'turnips and they were champion"

7. Material, old clothes etc - first of all - mend socks, sew buttons on, use jeans/trousers with holes in the knees as shorts etc. But if they've had it, then material can be used for coverings, dolls clothes (our daughters loved the Barbie dolls dressed in clothes like theirs!), patchwork blankets, pomfets etc. Take un-needed ones to clothing banks or charity shops, or sell any decent ones if you need the money at a car boot or on ebay.

8. Goes without saying really - vegetable peelings, fruit peelings and cores onto the compost heap or feed to chickens or pigs if you have them. Some local authorities have collection bins for all food waste and there are small anaerobic digester units you can get for the yard.

9. Waste wood - dolls house furniture and toys - my wife has made Barbie wardrobes, a bath and sink, chairs etc out of scraps of wood. They will last probably longer than I will! And they are unique, not mass produced in the Far East etc. Fuel if you have the means to burn for heating/cooking etc. Borders of raised beds.

10. Tyres - plant pots, compost heaps, weighing down clamps of potatoes

John Seymour and self sufficiency



This is the updated version to an earlier book from a pioneer of the whole self-sufficiency movement. John Seymour practises what he preaches and also teaches these skills on week long courses.

Although for city-dwellers and indeed those of us who don't have a spare acre or two, some of the topics are perhaps beyond our reach , but the subtitle on the cover says it all!

However, allotments are covered and indeed on a smaller scale. Alternative power, tool care, building and mending skills, resources etc are all given very thorough treatment.


My favourite comment, and one which we could all aim for is "The dustman should never have to call".

The book is available in the UK (as well as in the US via the link above), see below



All in all it is a very good read and there are lots of practical tips and good practice for everyone wanting to reduce their consumerism, being more self-sufficient, and particularly for larger scale projects and acreage

first potatoes this year

We have our first potatoes this year, red ones - I think they were Duke of York. Now, I know they are supposed to be new potatoes but everyone apart from me seems to like them with a proper skin on so we grow them on a bit

Monday, 27 June 2011

allotment report!

The allotment is getting productive - probably why I haven't had much time to blog about it!

Blackcurrants - more than we and our freezer can cope with!
Strawberries - likewise!
Raspberries - getting that way!

First courgettes appearing - I am sure we have a book somewhere entitled "what can we do with all those courgettes?!"

Peas flowering
First lot of potatoes ready for picking - will do this when we have got through the sack that we bought for a fiver up on the Yorkshire Wolds

Lettuce - happy and slug free for a change
Carrots - several lots now planted
Onions - eating the overwintered ones, summer ones growing happily

Blueberry bush is not happy - my mum said it is a deficiency caused by the fact we have a clay alcali soil and not a acid soil.

Pears - still got some black spot - treating with Diphane 945 - not organic I know but the only thing available that can cure it apparantly.

31.8 deg C today!

Friday, 24 June 2011

A Greek tragedy....

Every day we keep getting bombarded with news about Greek debt and bailouts and protests in Athens.

Point 1: The Greeks can't seem to accept that they have had it far too good over the past few years - there's government subsidy for pharmacists - so there's more phamacists than they know what to do with, Government workers have been able to retire at about 50 ish, I believe that a whole group of ex government workers were still getting paid despite not working for the government anymore...

Point 2 - Can't they just leave the Euro and be done with it? Didn't Nigel Lawson leave the Exchange Rate Mechanism when the markets bet against the pound and we had interest rates up to 15% - completely unsustainable and by leaving and letting the pound find its own level rather than being artificially pegged it got us out of the hole...

Point 3 - It seems very strange to me that share in a printing company in Leeds, mining companies on the other side of the world with non-european exports and customers get shorted on the back of worries about Greek debt - ok banks are affected, various other finance institutions and services perhaps, but it just seems that - like with the Japan earthquake - traders sell everything that isn't nailed to the floor irrespective of whether it has any exposure and not take account of companies' underlying value...

Point 4 - Why is Greece going bust the end of the financial world and we apparantly are all doomed? Oil will still get pumped out of the ground, gold will still be shiny, crops will still be grown - like I said let Greece leave, let them have Drachmas again at a sensible level and let them get on with it...

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/news/article-2007949/The-Big-Fat-Greek-Gravy-Train-A-special-investigation-EU-funded-culture-greed-tax-evasion-scandalous-waste.html#ixzz1QHagp8jk

Friday, 17 June 2011

pensions

Not the sort of things you might want to think about early on in your career, in fact with the pension age rising (66 at least now isn't it?) it seems further off than ever!
However, I work in the public sector and I am probably one of the few people who actually get it.... there is not enough money in the system and some more has to be found from somewhere otherwise it will run out!!!

So, no problem with the age rise to 66 for pensionable age - I was expecting to have to work till then anyway so what is the problem!

Increase in contributions - well that is more problematic, especially as this cuts into my take home pay in a big way, and you don't get anything extra for that money. But if you want that pension pot full by the time you reach 66 or whenever then unfortunately it's inevitable.... Like I said if the well's going to run dry at some point in the future, then you need get money to drill a new hole....

Sunday, 12 June 2011

water - or lack of it...

A drought has been declared in parts of England. Well they didn;t really need to tell us, just one look at the soil would tell you that there hasn't been enough rain recently. (Ironically I am writing this when some is forecast!)
I found it quite amusing the other day when the radio presenter on local radio said that Yorkshire was escaping the drought - well maybe the bit where she was had been getting rain, but as you go east it's certainly not! Rain appears to stop at the A1! Although the "occasional light showers" that they forecast the last week seem determined to drench my wife!

Anyway, back to the plot - I am reading, or rather re-reading for the third or fourth time "Dune" by Frank Herbert. Now I know science fiction isn't everyone's cup of tea (or other beverage if, like me, you can't stand the stuff! This from a Yorkshireman - heresy!)
However, for those unfamiliar with the book, most of the action is set on Arrakis, a desert planet where giant sandworm and a desert people called the Fremen live.
The Fremen wear stillsuits - a body covering designed to reclaim water that the body loses from sweat etc, and purifies this into a potable liquid. Water is also used as a form of currency, as a dowry, and the winner of a combat challenge has the right to the water from a vanquished opponent. The Fremen have also learnt how to reclaim water from the atmosphere, from dew, the wind etc via various technological means.

An interesting one for me was their way of irrigating crops or plants, by using a dew collector - black plastic used to funnel moisture from dew overnight to irrigate plants during the desert day. This is a variation on a survival trick in the deserts here, make a hole in the ground or sand with some form of container in it, place a large piece of black polythene over the top - the polythene has a small hole in the middle which is positioned over the container. A funnel is made by pressing the bit of polythene with the hole down in the middle, perhaps weighting it down with a stone - the idea is to ensure that moisture collected during the night from dew is funneled down into the cup.

Water conservation is important, and I shall share a few other ideas in a later blog, however in the allotment using various containers to collect the rain, we have a sunken bath as well as various large plastic barrels. We also use a section of guttering to funnel water down into the water butt.

Anyway, the Dune series is well worth a read!



Dune Novels official site

http://www.dunenovels.com/blog

Friday, 10 June 2011

strawberries and cream - well sort of....

Fresh strawberries from the allotment all this week, not quite strawberries and cream, actually with evaporated milk!

Plenty of blackcurrants - which get frozen for jam making later on in the summer.

Raspberries probably at least another couple of weeks, it's been so dry (the rain stops when it reaches the A1....) so I have been hosing them quite a bit.

There will, hopefully be a bumper crop of apples later in the year from our 3 minarette trees - we are allowed to put minarette fruit trees on the allotment on condition they are removed if we gave up the plot - not that this is going to be likely until we are old and decrepit!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Our Allotment Bible!

Although we have our own copy now, we originally borrowed this book off my mum.
"Your Kitchen Garden" by George Seddon and Helena Radecka.
The most handy bit is right in the middle which has a two page spread of what to plant and when. The first few pages go into a bit of history of how cultivation of food has progressed since earliest times, then some nice pictures and sections on crop rotation, soil, greenhouses, tools and sowing seeds.
Each type of vegetable and fruit is then dealt with, and various varieties thereof, with a bit of history thrown in as well. Storage and diseases are covered really thoroughly.

The second half of the book is a cookery book with lots of ways to use and cook your crops. Some more ideas on how to use up your courgettes! There is, for me, one of the most handy sections that is of preserving vegetables and fruit, and pickling etc.

There is a little piece which I think does date the book at bit and show how attitudes have changed since the 70's when the book way written! In the history section it talks about an allotment survey - age of allotment owners, sex, occupation etc - "They found that only 3.2% of allotment holders were women and 1.8% housewives - and here is the interesting bit - it was assumed that the women were at home looking after the flowers there" (!!!).
On the plot where our allotment is there are quite a few couples, and everyone gets involved - yes there are still a few "traditional" shed types but I think it's very much a shared activity nowadays for a lot of people.

Anyway, the book is still available, link is below

In the UK






In the US




Thursday, 2 June 2011

allotment report

Runner beans and french beans - in and sitting under an old swing frame we acquired from a friend.

Blackcurrants - trying to pick themselves, must go with a basket tomorrow!

Strawberries - some nearly ready

Pears - outbreak of blackspot fungus - have had to resort to Diphane945 - not organic I know but don't want the fungus to spread.

Sweetcorn - some in and happy, some still to put out

Onions - picked a few overwintered ones last week, picked the garlic as well.

Peas - put plenty in, popping up well.

Last weekend - washout and cold - today nearly 25 deg C and sunny. I wish the weather would make up it's mind!

Friday, 27 May 2011

Money Saving Tip #3 Paying down debt and investing

This isn't a substitute for going to Citizens Advice if you are really well in debt!

Nor does this constitute any form of financial advice, I am only stating what has worked for me over the past few years and cannot predict market conditions for the future!

When I was growing up my Grandma told me - never get into debt, if you are stuck for money come to me...
Well I never needed to take up the offer but the first bit I thoroughly took to heart. The only debt I have ever had was the mortgage, and that got paid off after 13 years. No, I didn't suddenly come into a pile of money, but when we re-mortgaged three years earlier we got on a mortgage that allowed us to pay up to £500 extra each month without penalty, we also fixed for 5 years at about 5.6%

So, we paid the maximum extra each month, and every month we got a rather pleasing letter from the building society saying we had so many months less to pay! In the end it got to a choice of paying off in a lump sum or just paying until the end of the fixed rate and indeed that would have been the end of the mortgage, so we used a far chunk of our savings and got rid of it altogether.

Being debt free makes a huge difference, and of course the satisfaction of having a home that is 100% yours!

How many people nowadays seems to have forgotten that it's rather a good idea to save up for something, not just buy it right now on credit and put off the bill until some indeterminate future time? So b****dy what about keeping up with the Jones or having a new car - they depreciate when they drive off the forecourt anyway! Live within your means and pay off any debts as quickly as possible - therefore less interest to pay and a much more well-off future!

Keep an eye on what banks and building societies do with your money - when you aren't looking they lower the interest rate on your accounts....

Never trust a financial advisor that isn't truly independent. We made the big mistake of going for a With-Profits fund in 2001 as it seemed at the time a way of avoiding big fluctuations of the stock market and giving a reasonable rate of return. We were sold this by an adviser from a bank at a time when these bonds were all the rage. Seemed good at the time but very quickly developed into a without profits fund.....

So, after deciding to chuck the bond in on it's 10th anniversary - where none of the fiddles and charges would apply, I put a similar amount of money into a self select funds ISA and some money into shares which I picked and researched myself.

Two years later and it's 40% profit so far on the funds and (although some shares are down, and one was a failure) I have been between 60% and 100% up on the share portfolio, one share being 500% up.

I informed the with-profits fund managers that a complete amateur like me could do these things for myself and do far better than someone on a rather unjustified bonus...they just tried to persuade me to leave my money in and gave me some bluster about the fluctuations in the market over the past 10 years - wasn;t that what the bond was supposed to guard against?!!!

It takes time and effort to do your own research into shares and you need to properly understand the terminology, a company balance sheet and research the markets and companies, but who better to look after your money that yourself!

A word of warning - don't follow share tips from newspapers, or from friends unless your own research and intuition agrees it's a good idea...

Don't put more into a single share than you can afford to lose

Spread your money over several funds and about 15 or so shares over different sectors and different geographical areas, although you may want to weight your investments towards a particular area e.g metals or technology or retail for instance depending on market conditions.

Invest when no one else is looking, not when everyone is jumping in, corrections occur!

Try and invest as the market starts to pick up after a crash, picking the bottom is difficult and only for the brave but when there's clear signs that things are starting to pick up then look for shares and funds that are undervalued compared to long term average

Unless you have pots to invest then shares with dividends don't generally make much - although they are mostly more stable, but capital growth will make a lot of difference to your portfolio.

Anyway, just what works for me!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

about our allotment - how we organise it etc

Today I thought I would describe to you how we have organised our allotment.

We got our allotment quite easily really about 5 years ago now, we just went and asked and at that time they had a number available so we were able to choose and get on straight away rather than going on a waiting list.
That first year we divided the allotment into 5 sections, with one permanent bed and 4 rotational plots. The first year was potatoes at the top, then brassicas, beetroot etc, then the permanent bed (more on that later) and then onions then peas and beans. The following year beas and beans went to the top and everything shifted down - except of course the permanent bed.

This year we have come full circle and now peas and beans are at the top, potatoes in the next one, then the permanent bed, then brassicas and sweetcorn, then onions, leeks, carrots and parsnips at the bottom.

At the back of the allotment we have now got a strawberry bed, some compost bins, and the blackberries that were there when we took over - very much free food! We must have had at least 100 jars of blackberry jam by now and we didn't plant any of them! We also have a minarette apple tree which we are training along the back fence.

In the permanent bed we have blackcurrants, raspberries, two more minarette apples, a damson, a blueberry plant and we did have asparagus, but that may well be no longer, time will tell. We also have rhubarb (taken from my mum's plant grown in Yorkshire's "rhubarb triangle" ) We have also planted two minarette pear trees which may well have pears this year.

We have plenty of compost - guinea pigs are very useful for that, and a local farmer leaves manure to share out amongst the allotment owners once or twice a year.

Monday, 23 May 2011

money saving tip #2 Turn things off!

Turn off electrical appliances when not in use....

It's so easy not to remember to turn things off or leave electrical appliances in standby. Standby draws power from the mains, so it's almost a religious duty to switch off completely!

Turn off mobile phone and other chargers when they have finished charging - I have heard that they draw power even after they have finished charging - certainly they seem to turn a lot of the power they consume into heat!

Turn off the kettle as soon as it gets near boiling - once the steam starts coming out that means that water inside is boiling - I never seem to drink my coffee piping hot anyway - I either forget or end up being distracted by another task....

Keep doors and windows shut in cold weather - heat leaves very easily!

Switch lights off when not in a room   - my children are now very well drilled and now tell each other off when a light's left on!

windy day!

Unusually for this time of year, today was an incredibly windy day - still blowing a gale as I type this. The allotment is quite open, although we have planted hedge bushes at the top end to try and break things up a bit. However, everything blows all over the allotment!
I have tied up a couple of the minarette fruit trees so hopefully they will withstand the wind - especially as the apples and the damson are laden with fruit.

One of the pear trees has a strange disease - black spots on the leave and the fruit doesn't look too happy. No idea what it is - any ideas anyone?

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

money saving tip #1 Drive slower!

I have figured out how to get the car to tell me fuel efficiency on each trip. It's a Renault Scenic 1.6. Manufacturer says 38 mpg, I am getting 39-40 mpg in city and up to 42.9 mpg on motorway / A road.

How? Well I don't go above 65 mph if I can help it, and generally stay around 60. Once upon a time I would generally cruise, well let's say a little (but not too much) above 70! But that's when petrol was 60 pence per litre and I had a Cavalier and then a Laguna which were more designed for motorway slogging.

Now with petrol at 133 pence per litre it makes sense on a lot of levels, not just from a petrol saving point of view to slow down - less emissions for a start, it's safer as well. And it doesn't really add too much to a journey time.

Also the way I drive has changed, smoother acceleration/deceleration when possible, trying to cruise at an even speed, using the gears efficiently and so on.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Home grown tomatoes - yes already!

Can you believe it? 15th of May and we have home grown tomatoes! The tomato plant lives on the window ledge in one of our bedrooms, just above a radiator. My wife decided to leave the tomato plant from last year, gave it a bit of a trim and put bubble wrap on the bedroom window to help protect against the cold. It worked, but with the winter we have just had, only just!

However, we have lots of tomatoes coming, and 7 ripe today - going into the spaghetti bolognaise...

Friday, 13 May 2011

Crusts

Ended up watching Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on TV the other night. I am not one for usually watching cookery programs but having read one of his books on holiday a few weeks ago, I thought I would see what his programmes were all about.
Anyway, interesting idea about saving crusts to make breadcrumbs. Basically, save up crusts of bread - perhaps in the freezer. Shove in a tray in a hot oven for about 3/4 hour or so to dry out all the moisture, then grate up into breadcrumbs. They have to be really quite crisp and dry otherwise they might go mouldy. Then store in a jar.

Neat idea if you can't get your kids to eat crusts, especially if they like all things in the form of a nugget or crispy crumbs!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Our allotment

Just two minutes walk from where I live we have a 80ft by 40ft approx allotment which we got about 5 years ago. It was a chance discussion with a friend that got me interested but - having heard about waiting lists of in some cases years - we thought it would be a while before we got one.
Not so! A trip down to the brewery who owns the land and rents out the allotments and we were shown a plan  - which one do you want? Choice of about 6 or so vacant ones at the time (that isn't the case today - there is now a waiting list). So straight on and into clearing stones and weeds, athough the brewery did plough the land for us to start with.

That first year we didn't cultivate the whole plot, I think it was potatoes in the top section, brassicas in the next. We then started a fruit section, with onions, carrots etc in the next. Peas and beans went in the last section.

We rotate every year, so this year it is peas and beans at the top, potatoes in the next (though the broccolli from last year is still in a bit as it hasn't finished!). The fruit section is now very much established, with 2 minarette pear trees, two minarette apples, a damson and a blueberry bush. Also blackcurrant bushes and rashberry canes.
The next section is brassicas and at the bottom onions, garlic, carrots, leeks and parsnips.

We also have strawberries and blackberries down the side and another apple.

So, we are quite busy but the aim is to try and have something from the allotment to eat every day of the year even if it is a pot of jam!

Introduction to Cash and Carrots!

Whilst on - of all things - a satellite TV forum the other day, I replied to a post from someone who was really starting to struggle with money and was asking for ways in which they could save it.
Having had an allotment for several years, and trying to live in a way such that we reduce waste, recycle, re-use, save energy etc, I gave a number of useful pointers to this user, but also had the idea that I would like to share these tips and ideas with a wider community.

So, having once had a blog on Yahoo 360 (no longer on the net) about allotments, I have decided to take up this and write up my thoughts and experiences regularly for you all!

Take care and I hope you find something useful!

Michael