July 31, 2010

Blueberry Crumble Cake

Blueberry Crumble Cake top


In the Isle of Wight Steve and I found this little eating place by the crazy golf in the Rylstone Gardens. They had loads of lovely looking cakes and we tried a Cherry Crumble Cake the first time we went there. It was so nice that we went back and tried the Apple Crumble Cake, which was just as nice. I said I would try and recreate something similar when we got home.


I found a recipe in my BBC Good Food 101 Cakes and Bakes book for Blackcurrant Crumble Squares and I’ve adapted it.



Instead of blackcurrants I used blueberries as we had a lot in the fridge to use up, but I only used half the amount the original recipe stated. I used a 10 inch round silicone tin instead of a 12 x 7 inch oblong tin.


For the crumble topping I reduced the amount of plain flour and added some ground almonds and omitted the lemon zest as I didn’t have any. I also reduced the amount of sugar in both the cake and the crumble topping.



Everyone loved this cake! Even Steve’s Mum loved it even though she’s not a fan of crumble. The cake was lovely and soft and moist and the crunchy crumble topping made a great contrasting texture.


This cake was a lot thicker than the slices we ate in the IOW, but it was still really good.


Blueberry Crumble Cake


    • Oven temperature: Gas mark 4/350°F/180°C
    • Oven shelf: middle
    • You will need: 12 x 7 inch oblong tin or 10 inch round tin or 9 inch square tin, lined and greased if not using silicone



for the cake:

  • 115g softened butter (I used Stork Margarine in the tub)
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 280g self raising flour
  • 125ml milk
  • 100g blueberries


for the crumble:

  • 100g caster sugar
  • 70g plain flour
  • 15g ground almonds
  • 50g butter (I used Anchor)



  1. Preheat the oven to Gas mark 4/350°F/180°C.
  2. Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl with a wooden spoon (or electric hand whisk) until pale and fluffy, then whisk in the egg and beat until incorporated.
  3. Sift the flour into the bowl and pour in the milk, then carefully fold them into the mixture until fully combined but do not overmix.
  4. Spoon into the prepared tin and spread evenly, then sprinkle the blueberries on top.
  5. Mix together the sugar, flour and ground almonds. Rub in the butter until the mixture is crumbly, then sprinkle on top of the blueberries.
  6. Bake for 45 minutes until the topping is golden and crunchy.
  7. Leave to cool in the tin.

July 15, 2010

Grow your own Carrots 2010

Carrot seedPLANT: ‘Early Nantes’ Carrots


Carrot Early Nantes is a second early and maincrop Nantes (tapered stump) type. It is virtually coreless with good texture, colour and flavour.

These are the same seeds I planted last year without any success. I tried to grow them in my raised bed and the seeds did sprout but the carrots were absolutely tiny. It didn’t help that something dug a big hole and disturbed all the seeds.


Sow direct: March-July 23rd Mar
Germination time: 7-10 days a few days before 9th Apr!
Ideal temperature: 10°C  
Harvest: May-October  
Time from seed to plate: 12 weeks  



  • Carrots love light, stone free, well drained, fertile soils with plenty of well rotted organic matter in them.
  • Sow as thinly as possible to avoid having to thin them out later, as this disturbs the roots and attracts carrot fly, which causes reddish leaves that wilt, then turn yellow.
  • Don’t sow where you’ve grown potatoes, beetroot, parsnips, celery, aubergines, tomatoes or peppers in the previous year.
  • Sow every few weeks for a continuous supply, in rows spaced a trowel blade apart.


  • Once seedlings appear gently pull out the weaker plants, leaving one carrot every couple of cm.
  • When the carrots are around 8-10cm high, thin out the row to leave at 5cm spacing for larger carrots, the carrots you pull up for this thinning can be eaten.


  • Water sparingly but be careful not to let the soil dry out. Water them first thing in the morning with a deep soaking, every few days.
  • Feed the carrots twice, first when they are about 8cm tall and again when they are about 15cm tall.


  • Plan to harvest before carrots fully mature, as they are more tender when picked earlier. Carrots mature 65 to 85 days after seeds are sown.


Useful websites:


March 23rd:
Holes in trugSo I’m trying to grow carrots again, this time in a trug. I made some holes in the bottom using a chisel that Steve found for me and it made perfect holes. I then put some crocks (a broken bowl that I accidentally smashed!) over the holes so they wouldn’t get blocked. I filled the trug with multi-purpose compost, then put a thin layer of seed compost on top.

23-03 Carrots sowedI drew a line to divide the trug into 2 sections as I plan to sow some more seeds at a later date. I thinly sowed the seeds on the top section, as marked by a bamboo skewer! Then I covered the seeds with a thin layer of seed compost and watered using a sprayer.

23-03 Carrots fleeceI used a large fleece bag to cover the whole trug for a number of reasons: to stop anything trying to dig, to increase warmth, and to prevent carrot fly.











09-04 Carrots

I’ve not checked my carrots since I sowed the seeds, so I was pleasantly surprised to see loads had sprouted! As you can see I didn’t sow them very evenly, so I will have to thin them out. It just goes to show that random scattering is not a good idea!

Hopefully keeping the fleece over them will keep the carrot fly out. I thought I would need to water them, but the compost was very moist already. It has been raining all over the Easter weekend and the sun only started shining properly yesterday.



19-04 Carrots

The carrots are doing really well and I’m chuffed because I didn’t get to eat any home-grown carrots last year. I thinned them out last week, pulling maybe 20-25 of them out so that they were 2cm apart. They’re roughly 2-3cm tall now so hopefully the extra space is all they’ll need to keep growing bigger and bigger. Today was the first time I’ve watered them and I did it with the fleece cover still on so that they only get a light sprinkling as the compost is still pretty moist. I think the fleece has been brilliant and I will definitely grow them in the trug again covered with fleece.


27-04 Carrots

I only check the carrots roughly once a week as I keep the fleece over them all the time. So I was surprised to see that the tops now have the delicate fronds forming already.





somewhere between May and June:

I removed the fleece! I’m sorry I never recorded the actual date of this event. I’ve become very slack with my blogging since I started my new job!


4th July:

04-07 carrot

I wasn’t sure when I’d know when I’d be able to pull up my carrots, but after closer inspection I can see the top of one. It doesn’t look very big or orange at the moment, so I think I’ll leave them another couple of weeks.








6th July:

06-07 orange carrot

The carrots are starting to turn orange! I always get excited when I see something suddenly change in the garden. I am resisting the urge to pull these carrots, but I don’t know how long that will last as I really am curious as to how long they’ve grown. I would really like to be able to pull a big bunch of carrots out all at once, as I’d like a substantial side for my dinner and it would also make a good photo!










06-07 carrots

Here’s a photo of the lovely green fronds.











15th July:

15-07 first harvest of carrots

I pulled my first lot of carrots today! As you can see they’re quite small, but they were perfect for the stir fry I was making. We tried some raw and they tasted pretty good!


I also used one of my home-grown chillies. I’d previously used one in a pasta sauce but I took out the seeds and it wasn’t very hot, so this time I left the seeds in and it was the perfect heat.




Udon noodles with homegrown veg

Here’s my stir fry and a quick recipe for 2 people:

Thinly slice one piece of rump steak and marinate in a heaped tsp of cornflour mixed with enough light soy sauce to make a paste. Meanwhile chop up some garlic, spring onions, mushrooms, carrots, green chilli and any other veg you have grown/lurking in the fridge.


Heat up some oil in a wok until it’s smoking hot, then fry the beef until brown on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside. If necessary add some more oil to the pan and fry the garlic, spring onions and chilli, then add the mushrooms and fry until brown. Chuck in the carrots and other veg and cook for a few minutes, then add a good glug of oyster sauce, some brown sugar, some soy sauce and some shaoshing wine. Bubble away and then add some udon noodles (that have had hot water poured over them to loosen them and then drained) and the beef. Stir well to make sure everything is coated and serve immediately.

July 11, 2010

Grow your own Potatoes 2010

Sow indoors: February-March  
Sow outdoors: March-April 20th April
Harvest: Late June  
Time from seed to plate: First Earlies: 100-110 days
Second Earlies: 110-120 days
Maincrops: 125-140 days



  • Sow in a sheltered spot. Next to a wall is perfect.
  • If growing in a bag: Roll down the plastic and puncture a few holes in the bottom for drainage. Set 3-5 tubers spaced well apart with the sprouts facing up, on top of 6-8in/15-20cm of good quality compost and then cover the tubers with a further 4in/10cm layer of compost, then water thoroughly.


  • As the plant grows and shoots emerge above the surface, add more compost to cover the shoots, gradually unrolling the bag. Repeat as needed until the compost is about 2in/5cm below the top of the bag.
  • Eventually the bag will be nearly full and you can leave the plants to grow above the surface.


  • Water regularly, the compost should be uniformly moist but not wet. An occasional heavy watering is better than little and often as this does not get down far enough and encourages shallow rooting.
  • Once the foliage has developed, feed with a high potash fertiliser to increase yields. Avoid fertilisers high in nitrogen as these will delay maturity of the crop.


  • Harvest times depends on lots of factors, however, in general terms first earlies are best harvested in small quantities and eaten straightaway when fresh in June and July.
  • From late June the plants will flower, which means the potatoes should be ready. Cut open the bag near the bottom to harvest. Take a few at a time as you need them, leaving the rest to grow larger.

Useful websites:



21-03 spuds chitI wasn’t going to try growing potatoes this year as I’m already growing quite a few new things and I don’t have a container for them. But when I opened the kitchen cupboard where the potatoes are stored and I saw the bag of new potatoes had gone way past their best (the picture shows how far they’d sprouted in the dark cupboard) I couldn’t resist seeing how far I could take these little sprouters.

Unfortunately I don’t know what variety of potato these are as the bag just said ‘New potatoes’.

I’ve done my research and I know it’s best to chit your potato seeds before planting them. This means to allow the eyes to become strong dark chits about 2cm long.
They’d already had a good start, but if it’s too warm or too dark the chits will be pale, weak and overlong. So I put them in an egg carton and have left them on a shelf in the spare room, not in direct sunlight.

21-03 spud chitThe chits need to be quite a bit darker than this before planting. I might buy another trug to plant them in, or I might just buy a bag of compost and stick them into it, which I saw Jamie Oliver’s gardener do on TV.







15-04 PotatoThe chits are now very dark and green shoots are just starting to peek through. The chits are 2cm long, which is the right length for the seeds to be planted. But I’m still deciding where to plant them! My bag of compost has just a little bit of compost left in it (¼ full), so I think I will use that.






20-04 Potatoes compost bag

So here’s my bag of compost. I used a bamboo skewer to poke lots of holes in the bottom of the bag for drainage. Then I added some more compost so that there was about a 6-8in/15-20cm layer. Apparently you should add fertiliser at this stage, but I decided not to add any yet, as the new compost I bought is Westland Organic Vegetable Compost and it says it’s “Specially formulated to support healthy strong roots, making it an ideal choice for root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, beetroot and onions. Plus it is a rich source of organic matter, a vital ingredient for heavy feeders that need moisture retentive soil and a constant natural source of nutrients”. So I thought there would be enough nutrients for a while.


20-04 Potatoes tubersI chose to plant 5 tubers as the compost bag can hold 75 litres, so it’s quite big. I read somewhere that for 5 tubers you should lay them out like the number 5 on a dice.









20-04 Potatoes planted

You need to plant the tubers with the chits facing upwards. After covering the tubers with compost I watered them well and then placed the bag in a sunny spot.









20-04 Potatoes wire I then placed some chicken wire over the compost to prevent anything from digging up my newly planted spuds.


And that was it. Incredibly easy! I’m hoping that my gamble of not using specially bought tubers will pay off, as potatoes suffer from diseases such as blight and common scab (sounds nasty!).






29-04 Potatoes

Well it’s taken about 9 days for the first green shoots to appear on all the tubers that I planted. I haven’t been watering them that regularly as the weather has been a bit funny lately and there always seem to be the threat of rain. I’ve now sprinkled some more soil on top to cover the shoots.


Steve’s sister bought her potato tubers from a garden centre and she planted them in bags, but the instructions on the packet said to only cover them lightly with soil. Nevertheless, hers have started to grow shoots as well, so it looks like it doesn’t make that much difference how much soil you cover them with.


The shoots are growing incredibly fast. I’ve had to cover them with soil twice already! Admittedly I’ve only been giving them a light covering, so I will probably have to put a lot more on each time, otherwise I’ll be doing it everyday!


11th July:

11-07 potato plants

You probably thought I’d given up on my potatoes considering the lack of blogging about them! Dear oh dear! Well the shoots kept growing and growing and I kept topping up the compost until the bag was full. I watered them every now and then. I moved them away from the wall to make way for my 3-tier planter for my lettuce. Then I pretty much neglected them. The shoots were trailing all over the floor and were getting eaten left, right and centre by slugs and snails. Clumsy me managed to snaps off 3 out of 5 of the shoots.


So I thought it was about time to sort out the plants. I put a bamboo cane in the middle of the bag and then tied the shoots to it to get them up off the floor and exposed to some sunlight. I also watered them with some Miracle Gro mixed in as I’m sure the plants should have started flowering by now.







11-07 potato roots

I pulled out one of the shoots that had broken just to see if there were any potatoes attached and there were 2! But they’re absolutely tiny, about the size of a pea. So I stuck it back in the soil and hoped they would carry on growing, even without any shoots/leaves.





11-07 first potato

But I poked around the soil a bit more and found this little beauty! It’s a perfectly formed new potato! It looks exactly the ones in the shops! (and no I didn’t just get one out of the kitchen and rub some soil on it!). I decided not to poke around the bag looking for more in case I disturb anymore that are growing as knowing me I’ll break up all the roots! So it looks like a solitary potato will be boiled up to go with tomorrows dinner! I’m pretty excited to see how it will taste!

July 9, 2010

Sam tries to keep cool

Apparently it was the hottest day of the year today. Sam decided the coolest place to be was in the flowerbed. Whilst the water hose was on.

Sam the Panda1


He squashed all the plants and flowers. Steve’s Mum wasn’t too pleased! But look how cute and happy he looks!

 Sam the panda

We think he looks like a panda. Aaaah!



July 4, 2010

Grow your own Butternut Squash 2010

butternut squash seeds PLANT: ‘Waltham’ Butternut

Light tan-coloured with small seed cavities and thick, cylindrical necks without crooks. It yields heavily (approx. 3-4 fruits per plant) showing remarkable uniformity with fruits averaging 23cm long and 2kg in weight. The flesh colour is richer than others, is smooth-textured and has a unique sweet flavour, particularly after 2 months' storage.

I absolutely love butternut squash so I tried growing it last year, but I didn’t have much success. A lot of the fruits died due to lack of proper pollination and the ones that did grow to maturity weren’t very big. The variety of seed I tried last year were Hunter and they were a freebie from the BBC Dig In campaign. I’m hoping that this Waltham seed I’ve bought from Premier Seeds Direct will be better.


Sow under cover: March - May 1st Mar
Sow direct:    
Germination time: 7-10 days 10th Mar
Plant out: June - July  
Harvest: October - November  
Time from seed to plate: 100 days  


  • Sow seeds on their side to prevent rotting.


  • Plant out when plants have grown 4 leaves, 1 metre apart


  • When green fruits begin to swell remove some of the leaves to expose them to the sun.


  • Leave to ripen for as long as possible. Cut each fruit from the plant with the stalk still intact.

I’ve sowed my seeds in small pots filled with seed compost, then I put them inside a clear plastic bag to maintain moisture.

I’ll be growing my squash in 14 litre Tubtrugs which measure 33cm wide and 23cm tall.

Useful websites:

March 13th:
13-03 Butternut squash I haven’t been at home all week but Steve told me my squash had sprouted sometime in the middle of the week. I was still surprised to see that they had grown this much though! The two at the front of the photo are the butternuts and at this stage the leaves look actually like the Uchiki Kuri ones, so luckily I labelled the pots!

March 21st:
21-03 butternut squash The butternuts are starting to develop their second set of leaves. I think they haven’t grown as much as the Uchiki squash because I have been putting water in the container underneath and because I’d squashed (no pun intended!) 4 pots into the container, the butternuts weren’t touching the bottom so they couldn’t soak up the water.



april 6th:

06-04 Butternut Squash

My butternut squash plants now have 4 leaves but it’s too early to plant them out. They’re looking pretty healthy so I’ll keep them in their pots for now. If they look like they’re struggling then I might re-pot them into bigger pots.






15-04 Butternut Squash

I thought the butternut squash plants had grown quite a lot in the last 9 days, but comparing the photos taken on the 6th it doesn’t look like they’ve grown much. The smaller one is 13cm tall x 13cm wide (how far the leaves stretch out) and the bigger one is 15cm x 15cm. After growing butternuts last year, I’m fully aware of how much they spread so it’s not such a shock this time around!


4th July:

04-07 butternut

The frequency of my blogging has been very poor. I can’t remember when I planted out the butternut squash – sometime in mid-June I think. I lost one of the plants as I was very heavy-handed and it snapped. Steve tried to play plant doctor but sello-taping the breakage but it didn’t work.


The plant that did survive the transplanting is doing OK but not great. There was only one flower I think and it didn’t become a fruit. I’m thinking that maybe the trug is too small for it, as the Uchiki Kuri squash are doing brilliantly in the raised bed.

Grow your own Sage 2010

Sage seedsPLANT: ‘Broad leaved’ - Salvia Officinalis

Highly aromatic perennial plant that is winter hardy. Grows to 1-2 feet and produces purple-blue flowers. 

A lot of butternut squash recipes call for sage, so I thought I’d have a go at growing it.


Sow under cover: February – May 1st Mar
Sow direct:    
Germination time: 10-21 days 13th Mar
Plant out: When no risk of frost  
Time from seed to plate: 75 days  



  • 2.5cm apart and 6mm deep. Keep the soil damp but not soaked.
  • Not all the seeds will germinate and the ones that do may take up to 6 weeks to germinate.


  • Transplant when 4-5cm tall, thin to 30cm.
  • Plant out 45cm between rows and 30cm between plants when all risk of frost has passed.
  • It is well suited to growing in containers and will grow indoors if given sufficient light. The best place for planting sage is in full sun. Sage should be put in a well draining soil as it does not like soil that is moist all the time.


  • A feed every month with general purpose liquid plant food will be enough.
  • After the flowers die down, prune the plant to about half it's size. Other than that, leave it to fend for itself.
  • In dry spells, resist the temptation to water, sage prefers dry sunny conditions.


  • Gather leaves regularly and prune the bush lightly in July after flowering.
  • Collect foliage for drying before the plant has flowered – sage takes a long time to dry, but will keep for up to a year in a closed container


March 13th:
13-03 Sage Half of my sage seeds have sprouted so I’m quite pleased about that. I might plant some more seeds directly into my herb pot outside since I have so many seeds.
March 21st:
21-03 sage I’m quite impressed with the speed of growth of the sage as they’re quite tall and are starting to develop another set of leaves.

21-03 sage leafUnfortunately one of the leaves had turned black so I picked it off. I’m not sure what the cause was, perhaps too much water as the soil does seem pretty soggy. You can already see the little furry hairs on this leaf, which is so characteristic of sage.






06-04 Sage

The seedlings were 12cm tall when I got around to transplanting them into pots, which is twice the height they should have been. They are therefore quite weak and spindly and I tried to plant them as far down as possible so that as much of the stem was beneath the compost.





15-04 Sage

I think the sage seedlings are doing ok. One is 8cm and the other is 10cm tall and they’re both growing new leaves.


The weather hasn’t been too great lately, so I won’t be planting them outside any time soon. In fact I’m inclined to keep growing them indoors for the next few months as they seem just too delicate to be planted out. There are just too many insects and animals that damage young plants!











01-05 Sage

I think my sage seedlings are doing alright as they look quite healthy, except they can’t stand up straight without some support. I don’t know if they should be this tall and spindly.


They’re growing quite quick as on April 26th they were 10cm and 15cm tall and now they’re both 20cm tall (the one on the left is so droopy!).










01-05 Sage leaves

The leaves are really starting to develop.


















01-05 Sage outdoors

A few weeks ago I scattered some sage seeds around my herb pot to see if they would germinate. I didn’t expect them to sprout, but 4 seeds did sprout and so I now have quite a few seedlings growing in my herb pot too! It will be interesting to see how they develop compared to the indoor grown ones and if they will grow to be as spindly.






4th July:

04-07 Sage

This plant is one of the random seeds I planted and I’ve now re-potted. It’s looking quite healthy and in much better condition than the indoor grown plants as it’s not as spindly.


I’m quite surprised how easy sage was to grow and I now have too many plants from all those scattered seeds!


So the lesson learned: grow directly outdoors.

Grow your own Blueberries 2010

This is more of an update on our two plants: the old one we’ve had since 2007 and the new one we got in 2009. You can read more about their pasts here.


17th March 2010:


17-03-new-blueberry New growth developing on the new plant.


11th april 2010:

11-04 Blueberry plants Both plants are looking quite healthy: the old one is on the left in the big pot and the new one is on the right.


5th June 2010:

05-06 old blueberryThis is our old plant and it’s practically dead. Steve’s Mum suggested I pull it up to see the condition of the roots as she thought the vine weevil might have laid its eggs in the soil. But when we pulled up the plant we could see that it hadn’t established its roots properly in the soil as it was so easy to pull up and the roots were all brown instead of white.


I haven’t had the heart to chuck it away as I still hope it will recover! But it looks like we’ll have to get a new one.


05-06 new blueberryLuckily the new plant is doing very well. It’s grown nice and tall, although I will probably prune some off the top to encourage it to bush out.


05-06 new blueberry fruitIt has even started to bear some fruit!


4 July 2010:

04-07 new blueberry Now some of the berries have started to change colour and are ready for picking!

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