Daffodils by William Wordsworth

Daffodils in Cornwall

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils. 

Vegetarians have lower heart risk

An 11 year study of 44,500 people in the UK showed vegetarians were 32% less likely to die or need hospital treatment as a result of heart disease. Differences in cholesterol levels, blood pressure and body weight are thought to be behind the health boost. The findings were published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Dr Francesca Crowe said: "The main message is that diet is an important determinant of heart health, I'm not advocating that everyone eats a vegetarian diet.The diets are quite different. Vegetarians probably have a lower intake of saturated fat so it makes senses there is a lower risk of heart disease."

British Heart Foundation spokesperson, Tracy Parker told the BBC "This research reminds us that we should try to eat a balanced and varied diet, whether this includes meat or not. But remember, choosing the veggie option on the menu is not a shortcut to a healthy heart. After all, there are still plenty of foods suitable for vegetarians that are high in saturated fat and salt.If you're thinking of switching to a vegetarian diet, make sure you plan your meals carefully so that you replace any lost vitamins and minerals, such as iron, that you would normally get from meat."

Whilst any major dietary decision should be done in consideration with your doctor, cutting down on meat and increasing your fruit and vegetable intake should help you have a healthier lifestyle.

Forests Not to be Sold Off


The UK government has announced that it has scrapped plans to sell off publicly owned forests in England. It has stated that instead a new public body will be created that will hold in trust the nation's forests to secure them for future generations. Environment Secretary Owen Paterson was responding to a report that called the estate a "national asset" that should not be sold off, not only that but he has stated that forest cover should be increased to 15% from the current 10% at present.

Sue Holden, chief executive of The Woodland Trust, said "Trees and woods have been on everyone's minds recently, they are threatened by disease and development and the public are extremely concerned. The Woodland Trust has lobbied with the help of members and supporters for the IPF's remaining strong and viable recommendations to be adopted as a whole."

"I hope it will state an ambition for society to benefit more by setting a target for woodland expansion, and that it will commit to the protection and restoration of irreplaceable ancient woodland," she told BBC News.

Fantastic news that the forests will not be sold off!

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

When ever you prepare pumpkins or squashes save the seeds when you scoop them out. By then toasting them in the oven for half an hour you get a very tasty nutty treat that is almost as good as the pumpkin in the first place.

Heres my technique for preparing them.

Measure your seeds into a saucepan, and add 2 cups of water for each cup of pumpkin seed and a tablespoon of salt. You could add more salt if you like the saltier taste but about 1 spoon tastes good for me.

Bring the saucepan to the boil and simmer your seeds for about 10 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 200C. Take a baking tray and coat the bottom with olive oil. Spread your seeds out and bake for about 10 minutes or until they are brown. Bigger seed can take longer. Keep an eye on them dont let them burn. Once they are ready take them out and  place on a rack to cool.


At this time of year it can be hard to have fresh produce, but one great idea for indoor salad is peashoots. Tasty and very simple to grow, pea shoots are simply the young leaves of a pea plant. Typically when you grow garden peas the plants take months to grow and require plenty of space and effort in your garden or allotment. However if you grow pea shoots then these are ready to eat in just 2 to4 weeks, and with minimal effort you are rewarded with delicate, juicy and tender leaves and tendrils.

You can grow them from dried peas you get at the supermarket, they are very simple to grow, just use a suitable container, add good quality seed compost. Scatter over the seeds on the top, as they wont have to grow to a large size you can be generous with how many you add. Then cover over with some more compost and water.They germinate quickly and can be used in salads. I like to eat them with feta :)

Awesome Parsnips

Parsnips are one of the best vegetables for winter with a lovey nutty taste and there are so many wonderful ways to prepare them. Heres a few I love.

Parmesan crusted Parsnips.
Cook the parsnips in boiling salted water until tender. Add oil to baking tray and sprinkle grated parmesan, polenta and mustard powder, heat for about five minutes and then add the parsnips, and transfer the tray to the oven cooking for about 30 to 40 minutes turning at least once.

Parsnip Crisps.
Use a swivel blade peeler to peel strips from the parsnips. Coat them in oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Place them in backing trays in single layers and bake for about 30 minutes until they are crisp  Grind sea salt over them and eat them hot.

Roast parsnips
Cut your parsnips into bite sized chunks and simmer in boiling water for about five minutes. Preheat your oven and a baking tray with oil. Remove the parsnips and add them to the hot tray, ensuring you coat them all in the oil. Roast for about 30 to 40 minutes turning at least once. Serve whilst hot.

If you do make the crisps then its worth making a lot at they are very moorish and I find they get eaten very quickly. You can make vegetable crisps from other vegetables for extra variety.

Growing herbs on your Windowsill

If like me you love using fresh herbs in your recipes then at this time of the year choice can be limited. You can buy plants at the supermarket but they are often lacking in the taste you would get from your own herb garden in the summer.

But if you have a bright windowsill there's no reason why you cant grow a selection even in the depths of winter. Many herbs will grow quite happily in pots and only require a little bit of care. However, you must bear in mind that to have enough to really use in your cooking, you will need good sized plants and correspondingly the pots to plant them in, so make sure you have enough space to keep them. If you can do, you'll be using fresh herbs in your kitchen all the way through the winter months.

Top Tips:

  • A south or Southwest facing window is best.
  • Avoid windows with a radiator underneath if you can, or if not keep on top of watering, don't let them dry out but don't waterlog them, remember many herbs come from Mediterranean climates so don't like constantly wet feet.
  • Use a soil-less compost medium to avoid introducing soil borne pests, don't use soil from your garden.
  • Ideally use a container that is at least 6 inches deep, but more if you have space.
  • If starting in winter buy plants from the supermarket that are sold as fresh herbs and grow them on, if you start in the summer you can also take cuttings of your favourites from the garden such as sage or rosemary.
  • Feed you herbs monthly with a suitable plant feed designed for edible plants. I tend to use a slightly weaker solution than recommended for best results.
  • Great plants include, basil, mint, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, if they get too big then plant them in the garden the following spring and start again.

How to Prune Raspberries

Following on from our post last month about how to grow Raspberries I thought it was a good time to follow this up with a discussion on how to Prune them as well. Raspberries are best pruned in late winter, usually February, so that's not long to go.

Raspberries spread through suckers. This means that raspberries will spread out beyond the original spot if you let them. However large, un-pruned raspberry bushes don't yield any more berries and can actualy lead to problems or lead to the premature death of the bush itself. Pruning raspberry plants therefore does more than just keep the bushes under control. Raspberries can also be prone to a number of diseases and so pruning out old stems can reduce the spread of disease throughout your plants.  

Cut back all the canes that fruited last year to ground level in February as they wont fruit again, the old canes will have a gray bark.

Remove any suckers that have popped up outside the footprint you had designated for each plant. (about a foot to a foot and a half is a good size)

Remove any thin, weak or stubby canes, take out any that show any signs of damage.

In the summer you can also reduce the number of canes slightly if they are overcrowded or if there are any dead or diseased canes.

Leave about 4 or 5 of the healthiest looking canes on each plant, and tie these into the supports.

By doing this you should get a better harvest the following summer.

Here is a useful video from Youtube explaining the techniques.

Enjoying the Snow

With the snow giving me a break from the Allotment, there is time to get out and enjoy some of the wintery sights. I went along to a local park this afternoon to enjoy the snow, and take a few photos.

Weeping Willow overlooking the lake.
Families enjoying the snow.
A row of pine look right at home in the snow

How ever you spent the day I hope you kept warm.

How to Grow Mushrooms

Mushrooms are easy to grow and dont take too much effort to get started, you can buy growing kits to make life simple. You can even try growing some of the more exotic varieties in logs, but you do need to be patient.

Unlike fruit and vegetables mushrooms are not a plant and so they don’t grow from seed. You will need to purchase a dedicated growing kit. Typically most people start by buying mushroom growing spawn, which are usually sold as plugs that are impregnated with spore that can be put into pre-drilled holes in logs. The other way to start is by using mushroom patches, which like the spawn contains mushroom spores but this time they are mixed with grain and can be used in soil or pots in the garden. They are simpler but are generally not as successful).

Ready-to-grow kits are probably the easiest way to get started. You can simply spread the sterilised grain over a container of compost. Then water the container and place it in a sheltered, spot with low light levels outdoors. Such a growing kit should produce three crops of mushrooms totalling about 1kg. You can then compost what’s left and may be lucky enough to get another crop.

A handy guide from Youtube

Orchids soon to return to Kew

Kew are launching their Orchid Displays again. Enjoy a vibrant burst of colour this February as Kew Gardens brings London a dazzling orchid display; guaranteed to brighten up the winter season. the Princess of Wales Conservatory is transformed into a sea of glorious flowers. It’s a celebration of the colour, drama and beauty associated with this extraordinary and diverse group of plants. Vibrant orchids will dominate the lush, wet tropical zone of the Princess of Wales Conservatory. Stunning displays will sweep through the glasshouse, transforming it into an intense blanket of colour.

For more information and Tickets see the Kew website.

January in the Garden

Prune apple & pear trees
Is is a good time of year to prune your apple and pear trees as they are now dormant. Trim back to one or two buds, thin out branches that are congested or rubbing against other branches. By doing these jobs you will increase the  light and air flow through the tree. Remove any "mummified" fruits still hanging on your trees as these can be a source of rot going into the new season.

Despite it being January there may still be plenty to harvest, Leeks may well be standing ready but if a sustained freeze is expected then you can dig a few up and heel them in to dug ground. Parsnips and swedes in the ground can also come up when you are ready, but until then cover them over with fleece or straw to stop them freezing solid into the ground. The cabbage family should be providing some sustenance and beet leaves (perpetual spinach) and chards will be available. On a sunny day it is worth emptying your potato sacks and check for any that are starting to rot before it spread

Protect tender plants
Tender perennials such as Cordylines and Fuchsia should be kept out of the frost, so bring them into the green house or conservatory.

Brush heavy snow off trees
If you get a heavy snow fall then brush shrubs and conifers with a broom to prevent branches getting damaged.

If the ground is now frozen finish off any digging over you still need to do.

Thoroughly clean and oil your loppers, secateurs, and other hard worked tools so they’re fit for another years maintenance in the garden. Start off by giving them a good scrub with some hot soapy water and leave them to dry thoroughly before wiping over with an oily rag to stop them going rusty.

If you dont have any (or enough) then this is a good time to plant in the green especially if a friend of neighbour can provide them to you.

Butterflies at Wisley

The butterflies are back at RHS Wisley, from now until the 24th February you can see these beautiful creatues in the Tropical section in Wisley. Wander underneath palms and watch the butterflies take part in courtship flights and feed from plant nectar and fruit. And, if you stay still for long enough, one might even land on you! 

For more information, see here.

Going CooCoo for Cucamelon

How cool are these, not a melon and not a cucumber but a cucamelon. One of the highlights of James Wongs new book "Home Grown Revolution".

Described by the seed company as follows:
An heirloom that packs a lot of flavor in an adorable, teaspoon-sized treat! These little charmers are like no other, packing a powerful, sweet, cucumber flavor with a tangy, citrus twist. Delicate foliage and fist-fulls of fruit that look like doll-sized watermelons make these plants pretty enough to grow trellised in a flower garden or cascading in a hanging basket.
They are very small, just an inch and a half tall, light-green fruits with darker mottling look like watermelons for a doll house, which gives them one of their common names, mouse melon. The scientific name of this plant is Melothria scabra and it comes from Central America. The flesh is white, crisp, crunchy with a slight lemony tartness. The flavour is closer to a cucumber than a melon with a dash of lemony zest thrown in for good measure.

How to make Spicy Tomato Soup

1 tablespoon of olive oil
Half an onion, chopped finely
1 garlic clove, crushed
half teaspoon chilli powder
250g/9oz passata
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
100ml/3½fl oz chicken or vegetable stock
Chopped flat-leaf parsley or bay leaves
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Passata is made from ripe tomatoes that have been puréed and sieved to remove the skin and seeds. It is sold in jars and can be smooth or chunky depending on the sieving. You can buy or make your own.

Heat the olive oil in a pan and fry the onion and garlic together gently for two or three minutes until it has softened. Add the chilli powder and passata and bring to a simmer.

Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the stock and cook for a further four or five minutes. Using a stick blender, process the soup until smooth.

To serve, spoon the soup into a bowl and garnish with the parsley or bay. Drizzle over the olive oil.

How to Grow Microgreens

Microgreens are small but perfectly formed, lately they become very trendy and you can find them everywhere from corner bistros to plastic-wrapped at the grocery store. Like all things trendy they have a price to match, but they are easy and simple to grow, and take up very little space so why not have a go yourself.

Microgreens can be any small herb or salad, lettuce, kale, spinach, radish for instance. You can buy packs of mixed seed or create your own mixes from a selection of salad crop seeds that are easily available in all good garden centres!

To grow take a shallow seed tray and add a good quality multi-purpose compost (make sure its suitable for seeds). Moisten the soil and scatter your seed mix over the top, sow quite densely but no so dense the seeds are all touching. Mist the seeds with a mister afterwards.

Place your seeds on a bright windowsill and keep them moist and even at this time of year you can have an easy supply of greens. Harvest once your seedlings are between 1 and 2 inches tall.

Win The Ultimate Organic Hamper from Riverford

 Riverford delivers award-winning organic vegboxes and food fresh from the farm straight to your door and for this months competition we have one of their delicious hampers to give away.

Riverford offers a range of weekly organic essentials like vegetables as well eggs, milk, meat, juices and cereals, they can even deliver wine and chocolate when you need a treat and their amazing Organic vegboxes start from just £10.45. The Riverford box scheme began when Guy Watson started delivering vegetables locally to 30 friends in Devon. They now deliver around 40,000 boxes a week to homes around the UK from their regional farms. Ordering is easy and flexible, delivery is free and you don’t even need to be at home.

The prize is a large vegbox with meet that will be enough organic meat and veg to feed 4+ people for around a week. Typically 12 veg varieties with potatoes, carrots and onions most weeks. You’ll also get 3 RSPCA award-winning meat items that will always include a joint and mince, plus a different cut such as diced chicken.

To be in with a chance simply answer the following question:

Which of the following is a variety of Leek?

A) Giant Musselburgh
B) Walla Walla Sweet
C) White Lisbon

Extra entries can be made by sharing this competition on Twitter (include #DiligentGardener) or by liking our page and sharing the competition on Facebook.

An additional entry can be made by "following" this blog via Google Friend Connect

Terms and conditions: This competition closes at 23.59 on 25 January 2013. Any entries received after this time will not be counted. Entrants must be UK residents aged 18 years or older to enter. By entering this competition you agree and consent to your name being published and by taking part in the competition, entrants are deemed to have read, understood and accepted all of the Terms and Conditions and agreed to be bound by them. The winner will be selected at random from the valid entries and will be announced here on the blog. Please make sure we are able to contact you if you do win.
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