Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Thirty minutes well spent

Spending half an hour on the phone today has saved me over £200, which I consider time well spent.

A couple of years ago, I transferred the telephone and broadband contract away from BT and over to Sky.  While I didn't particularly want TV - I'd done without one for over 10 years - it was a useful resource Small, and I got the TV, broadband and telephone from Sky for the same price as I was paying BT for just the broadband and phone.

Over the time I've been with Sky though, the price has crept up and although I'll never go back to BT, I decided to cancel with Sky when the contract comes to an end in September.

They obviously don't like losing customers, and initially they offered to upgrade me to include the sports and movies package for free.  As I'm not remotely interested in either, I said no.  They then offered to drop the price of the package I'm on by £18 a month on a 12-month tie in.  Happy with that, I agreed to the offer and will save £216 over the next 12 months, which will pay for the TV licence.  I call that a result.

So if your phone/tv/broadband or whatever you have is about to come to an end, tell them you're going to cancel.  You never know what you might save!

Until next time. x

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Some common British butterflies

I have a lovely buddleia bush in the garden, and on days like today, it's easy to see why the plant has the other name of "butterfly bush" as it's been covered in butterflies.

Female large white (aka cabbage white)
Male large white
Pair of Tortoiseshell butterflies
Red Admiral
I haven't seen a Comma for years, and I remember the first time I saw one I thought something had been nibbling at its wings.  Oh well, we live and learn!

Until next time. x

Monday, 29 July 2013

What's the time Mister Wolf

A quick trip to Lidl for some milk led to the purchase of another home ed book - this time to help with telling the time, and at just £1.99 why not!

It comes with a handy poster too, which has been put up next to Small's side of the dining table.

And housemate's son has been busy copying some Angry Birds out of an annual he got for Christmas.  His drawing is getting very good.  I just wish he paid as much attention to his writing.

Until next time. x

Friday, 26 July 2013

Complaining can pay dividends

Afternoon all.

Those of you who regularly read this blog will know that I recently got an allotment - aka Plot 57.  What I didn't mention at the time was the argument I'd had with the local town council which allocates the allotments over the unfairness of their charging policy.

At the time housemate and I inspected the allotment site, plots 56 and 57 were both vacant, and the original plan was that housemate and I would each take one.  Until, that is, it came to the town council asking for payment.  I had (incorrectly) assumed the rent would be pro-rata to the number of months remaining in the charging period, which runs February-January, so in other words, I expected to pay for 7 months.  Not so as it turned out, and I vehemently objected to paying a full year's rent on both plots, particularly when they were in such a poor state.  My objection was duly noted and I was told it would be put before the committee.

Good news!  The committee agreed with my point and have amended their charging policy so that from now on, anyone taking a plot mid-way through the year will only pay pro-rata to the remaining months.  Quite a result as frankly, I didn't think I stood a snowball in hell's chance of getting them to agree, but they have.  I can't believe no one has thought to complain before, but apparently no one has.

So ... it looks like the 400sq metres of plot 57 is going to be joined by its mate plot 56, and become one large plot of around 800sq metres.

Given that as his carer, I do all the work on housemate's plot, It might seem totally insane to take on another huge area when the first plot is gigantic all by itself, and the combined area of the two plots equates to more than 3 average 250sq m plots, but there is method in my madness.  The plots are extremely long (around 80m) but are each only 5m wide.  By taking both, housemate and I will have only to fence the 5m across our respective plots, rather than one of us having to fence the 80m between the two.  In terms of economics and less labour to fence, it makes perfect sense.  (Can you tell I've spent the last few days doing math coaching with Small!?)

Quite what I'll do with the extra 400sq m, I've no idea yet, but I shouldn't run short of fruit and veg, that's for sure.

Until next time. x

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Flouting the law

A bit of a rant this time, so if you're not a home educator, or someone who is considering home schooling your child, you might want to switch off now!

If there's one thing that's sure to get me up on my soap box, it's local authorities (aka councils) that think they can get away with flagrantly misinterpreting, and in some cases deliberately flouting, the law surrounding home education.

It is the right, and indeed the responsibility of every parent or guardian in the UK to ensure their child receives an education suitable to his (or her) age, aptitude and ability, either at school or otherwise.  In other words, it's not the state's responsibility to educate the child, it's the parent's.  And it does not become the state's responsibility until or unless the parent delegates the responsibility to it by applying for a school place.  Of course most parents send their child(ren) to school, probably because they're not in a position to do anything else, but also because most don't realise there's any alternative.  However, it is actually education that is compulsory, while school is not.  Indeed home education is a right in law, whereas school must be applied for.

If your child has never attended school and you have not applied for a school place, there is no legal requirement for you to inform the local authority of (or seek the permission of the local authority) your decision to home educate.  Simply get on with it and enjoy!

Visiting any council website looking for information about home education often leads to a minefield of misleading information and frequently downright incorrect interpretation of the law.  I appreciate most parents considering home ed won't usually visit any council websites other than that of the area in which they live, but I truly pity any new home educator who finds themselves on some of the council websites out there.  I have no qualms whatsoever in naming and shaming those councils that get it so wrong.

By way of example, take Barnsley Council.  Not only does their page on home education take a very gloomy approach to the whole idea of home ed, it also blatantly disregards the law by stating: "The school will not remove the child from their school roll until 10 working days have elapsed."  This statement is illegal.

What should happen is this:  A parent who wishes to deregister their child from school has a legal duty to inform the school (in writing, [and do send recorded if posting]) that they wish to deregister the child as they intend to provide an education otherwise than at school (ie home educate).  No permission is required* to home educate and provided the deregistration letter is sent/handed in, then the parent's duties have been fulfilled.  No further action required on the parent's part.

* The only exception to this is where the child attends a special school; is subject to a School Attendance Order or is subject of an Educational Supervision Order, when the rules are slightly different.

On receipt of the deregistration letter, the school has a legal duty to remove the child from the register immediately, and any who say different are breaking the law.  The school does have a duty to inform the Local Education Authority (LEA or LA), but should still remove the child from the register as he (she) is now receiving an education otherwise than at school.

Barnsley Council further goes on to state:
"If notification of the parents' intention to withdraw their child is received by the school during term-time, an education welfare officer from the inclusion/intervention team will visit the home of the pupil who has been withdrawn within 10 working days. Any relevant information emerging from the meeting will be passed to the assessor for elective home education. The assessor needs to be satisfied that the child will receive suitable education, so usually about two months after the parent has written to the school to inform them of their decision to withdraw the child from the school roll, the assessor will arrange a meeting to talk to the parents and look at examples of work and learning."

Local authorities do have a duty to ensure no child of compulsory school age (currently 5-16) misses out on education.  However it is not right that any council automatically assume a child who is not on a school register is what they call "CME" or a "child missing education".

If you have deregistered your child from school, you will have clearly stated in your deregistration letter that you intend to educate otherwise than at school.  Education welfare has no real jurisdiction here, as they are responsible for children missing education and/or those who are truanting from school.  Your child is no longer on the school register and is receiving an education suitable to his (her) age, aptitude and ability otherwise than at school (Section 7 of the Education Act 1996).

Any council whose truancy officer (aka Education welfare officer) arrives unannounced on your doorstep can be firmly told to sod off, and any council who attempts to insist they have a right to enter your home, meet your children, assess your child's work, look at samples of work, discuss your curriculum etc, etc, is talking BOLLOCKS.  Indeed the law states:  "The Act of 1944 (replaced by the 1996 Education Act) does not provide for or contemplate an intrusion of a parent's privacy by inspectors coming into the home and it is quite wrong for a local authority to insist on such inspection."

At most, an LEA can make informal enquiries as to the educational provision you are making for your child, BUT the duty to make informal enquiries (contained in section 437 of the Education Act 1996) only applies where a local authority has a positive, substantive reason to believe that a child may not be in receipt of a suitable education.
  1. They have no right to enter your home
  2. They have no right to meet you or your children at all
  3. They have no right to request samples of work
  4. They have no right to ask you to complete any Home Education registration forms or similar
  5.  It is entirely up to the parent to decide what evidence to provide (it's sensible to provide something) and most choose to provide a brief statement.
Once the LEA has been provided with clear evidence that a suitable education is taking place, then in law at least, that should be an end of the matter.  The local authority has NO further duties to carry out, and they should not hassle the parent for further evidence, or try to insist on annual inspections or visits.  However sadly many local authorities love to give themselves powers they do not have, and they will try to insist on these things.  Before considering any contact with your LEA, you might want to read this.

Right down at the bottom of its HE page, Barnsley Council admits that home visits aren't mandatory, but then goes on to state among its requirements: "...  length of time of educational engagement, the plan for the future, the process by which they intend to assess the childs progress etc, with an endorsement by an education professional as to the quality of the pupil's education."

HE does not have to be carried out at set times or for set hours.  No assessment needs to be carried out by the parent or anyone else.  And most definitely there is no requirement in law for any endorsement by an educational professional as to the quality of education.  In the worst case scenario, it would be up to a court of law to determine whether the education being provided is a) suitable to the child's age, aptitude and ability, and b) that the education achieves what it sets out to achieve.

Barnsley Council then goes on to pose the question: "Does the child need to be seen" and answers itself with: "Yes, we recommend that the child is seen by both the education welfare officer and the assessor."  There is no legal requirement whatsoever for the child to be seen, and for Barnsley Council to issue such a statement is totally ultra-vires.  They would of course 'get away' with this one as they would argue that by including the wording "we recommend" that it's merely guidance, but I would argue that by their use of "Yes" as an opening they are alleging it is mandatory.  It is not. 

My advice to anyone thinking of home educating is to brush up on the law surrounding home ed, and stand your ground against these interfering busy bodies who think they know it all.  They don't.

Until next time. x

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

I need a pantry

I got my hands on the gooseberries today, all 343g of them.  For some reason, gooseberry bushes never seem to produce very large yields, but I did better than my mother who got just half a pound or around 225g.  My neighbour, on whose allotment the berry bushes are, told me to help myself to any raspberries that were ready, so I did.  I don't think his wife likes the idea of making jam!

So along with all the jars of strawberry jam and red currant jelly, I now have a few jars of raspberry jelly (seedless), and two small jars of gooseberry.  I definitely need a pantry to keep these goodies in, and we haven't even reached blackberry and elderberry season yet.

The raspberry jelly had the benefit of literally two dozen black currants thrown in with it, and they've really made a difference to the colour - but not the flavour - of the jelly.  It's the most gorgeous deep purpley-red, and tastes delicious.  I had some on toast for my tea.  There was also enough to make a full bottle of cordial.  Yum.

The gooseberries made two small 4oz jars, and the jelly is the palest of pale pink.

Until next time. x

Monday, 22 July 2013


What could I possibly post today that wouldn't be overshadowed by the BIG NEWS?  So without further ado:

Congratulations to William and Kate on the birth of your baby boy!

Until next time. x

Sunday, 21 July 2013

We can do maths

Maths was never one of my strong points at school, or not at secondary level anyway.  I was ok when I first started at "the big school" but once we began doing things like algebra, which was never explained to me in a way I could understand, it all fell apart and I lost interest.

Housemate's  son is still in primary school, but he already seems to have lost interest in maths, "I hate maths," he says.  He's certainly struggling and his latest school report is of the "could do better" kind.  Homework is always a running battle with him, as while his dad (and I) are always more than willing to help him, we obviously don't work things out the same way as school does.  We end up with the right answer, but because we don't do it school's way, he gets upset because he feels he'll get into trouble if he doesn't work the sum out the say they say he should.  Aaaaaaargh!

OK, so the summer holidays have just started but I've an eye on the fact he's moving up a year, and home schooled Small also needs some new material for the next few months.  That's my excuse for the fact I've been buying some books.  Among those recommended for maths, by both fellow home edders and teachers alike, is the "Maths on Target" series for KS2 pupils.


The books I've linked to above are the revised versions - the older (and apparently less clearly defined ones) are called "Target Maths".  From the reviews I've read, the newer ones above have all the topics differentiated into three abilities - less able, core/average level, and challenging for those who are well ahead.

Note:  The answers aren't included in the books, so no possibility of Little Johnny or Jane cheating!!  Answer books can be bought separately if required.  Hopefully I can cope, but I think I'll have to resort to buying answer books for when we move on to the KS3 level.

I'm looking forward to getting my copies and hopefully being able to help housemate's son, as well as brushing up on my own maths as I've no doubt Small will soon catch up with me.

Until next time. x

Disclaimer: Any purchases made through the above affiliate links will pay me a small commission which I use to purchase further educational resources.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Home education offers

Just a quick post today, as we've been up to our ears in maths, reading and writing, and PE in the park as it's been much cooler today. It was good to have a run around again.

While I had five minutes peace, I found some great offers on the Collins Educational website, with workbooks for £1.00 each, including a lot from the "Little Wizard" range, which we love.  Postage for my whole order was a very reasonable flat rate of £2.95.  BTW - I'm not getting any commission or anything for recommending these, I just thought I'd pass on a suggestion for fellow home edders.

I've seen quite a few of this publisher's books come highly recommended by reviewers on Amazon, but these offers are available only from the Collins website itself.  To see what's available, go to the site using the link above, click on the "Offers" tab, then look for "Find more £1 books from other subjects".  Lots of maths and English practice and revision books.

I'm not sure how often these offers change, but I'll certainly be checking back from time to time to see of there are any different ones.

Until next time. x

Friday, 19 July 2013

Even worse

I thought yesterday was hot, but today was worse!  Last time I remember it being this hot was when I lived in Australia.  We're just not used to these sorts of temperature in the UK.

Thankfully it's much cooler tonight with a nice bit of breeze blowing, but the forecast is for more of the same.  A lot of the plants aren't too happy, and watering's a nightly chore, unlike last year when we were praying for a let up in the constant rain.

Free fruit

One of my neighbours got his allotment a couple of months before I got mine.  Although his was similarly jungle-like, it had been in cultivation about 18 months previously and he was lucky that there were already some well established fruit bushes on the plot - unlike mine which seems only to have nettles and thistles!  Among the fruit bushes he has red currant, black currant, raspberries and gooseberries.

A day ago, he was telling me that his wife was going to make cordial out of the berries, but said I could have the gooseberries as he can't stand them.  I don't know what happened to change his wife's mind, but her loss is my gain and he came round this evening bearing gifts:  Two large plastic boxes, one containing red currants, the other a mix of black currants and raspberries.

Before ...
 Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I've had a busy evening turning the red currants into several jars of jelly, and the black currants and rasperries had some strawberries added to them, and they've been turned into a bottle and a bit of "summer fruits" cordial.

and after.
The gooseberries aren't quite ready yet, but if I manage to get them, I shall look forward to making jelly out of those too, as gooseberry jelly was always one of my favourites as a child.

All of a sudden, my jam/jelly stockpile has increased dramatically, so much so, I've run out of saved jars and have had to order some as I foresee many more jars of homemade goodies to come.

Until next time. x

Thursday, 18 July 2013

How hot


My favourite supper

One of my favourite meals when I can't really be bothered to cook, or like last night when I was gardening and it just got rather late in the day to start cooking, is what I call "cheesy garlic toast".

Very simple to make, and extremely cheap, this meal is both tasty and filling.

Decide how many slices of toast you want to eat, and finely chop that many cloves of garlic.  Toast the bread on one side only (so under the grill not in the toaster), and turn them un-toasted side up on the grill pan rack.

Cover each slice with a teaspoonful of chopped garlic, then cover the raw garlic with slices of cheese.  The very best kind to use for this meal is the cheapest mild white block cheddar, cut into thin-ish slices.  Anything stronger just doesn't do the job for some reason, and neither do other types of cheese - I have, in an emergency, used leftover mozzarella, but that really doesn't work too well either.  Whatever you do, don't use those slices of processed cheese that come individually wrapped in cellophane.

Put it all back under the grill until the cheese has all melted and gone bubbly, and the bare bits of bread have toasted.  Cut in half, and serve.  Yummy-licious and also an extremely good way to take in lots of nature's own antibiotic (garlic).

Very smelly but ultra tasty, though probably best avoided if you have a job interview or important meeting the next day.  Might be one to save for the weekend!

Until next time.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Homemade burgers

My housemate is still on his low-carb diet, and something he now eats quite often is homemade burgers.  These are high in protein, relatively low in fat, and very low in carbs.

To make these, finely chop 2-3 cloves of garlic and half a red onion.  Add a handful of breadcrumbs - I usually have some in the freezer as it's a great way to use up leftover bread.

Throw in a pack of mince - this is minced pork from Aldi, but turkey or beef will do.  I don't like ones made with minced lamb as it's a very greasy meat, but I imagine it would work just as well.  Add a beaten egg, then get your hands mucky and mix it all thoroughly.

If you don't have a burger press, you can simply take handfuls of the mixture and mould it into shape by hand.  I have one, which I got very cheaply, so I spoon the burger mix into the mould and end up with nice uniformly shaped burgers.  This recipe makes housemate 5 burgers, so enough for 2 meals with one left over for lunch.  Alternatively, you could make 6 slightly thinner ones and freeze the extras for another time.

Serve with lots of veg or salad, and if you're not on a low-carb diet, you could serve the burger in a bread bun, with or without some cheese on top, and you could also add some chips for a homemade fast-food experience.  Don't expect them to be ready in a hurry though, the cooking time makes these more of a slow-food experience - but well worth the wait.

I oven cook these raised on a wire rack for around 20 minutes, turn them over and give them another 20.  I prefer cooking them this way to grilling them as they stay much more moist, whereas grilling tends to dry them out too much.

Now I should have taken a photo of the finished plated burgers when I dished them - but I forgot, and served them up without another thought.  It was only afterwards that I commented that I'd not taken a picture of the plate ... So housemate said I could take this photo instead.

He said they were delicious!

Until next time. x

Monday, 15 July 2013

Shopping on a budget

Shopping, or rather trying to feed a family and shopping on a very tight budget, has been big in the news recently.  The media finally seems to have grasped the fact that a great many of us struggle on a daily basis just to put food on the table. I'm fairly certain this will all fall on the very deaf ears of our politicians, who incidentally, have just been recommended for a big fat 11% pay increase, taking their annual salary to around £74,000.  I'd love even an eighth of that!

When it comes to supermarket shopping, in fact make that most shopping, I can sum it up in three words ... I hate it.  I hardly ever shopped at Sainsburys (too expensive), I used to love Morrisons - but that too became too expensive. Tesco was ok, but now that's very expensive too and of the "big 4", that left Asda, which I like and still use occasionally, but even there the prices keep creeping up and up.  So what's left?

Lidl, and Aldi.  I've tried both and I like both, but if I had to cast a vote, it would be for Aldi.

I've shopped there for quite a while now, and I can honestly say that of all the products I've tried, there hasn't been anything that didn't match up to its better known brand-name counterpart.  Even with products I'm pedantic about, like my Hellmans mayonnaise, I've found Aldi's version of "real mayonnaise" is just as good. And that's some going!

Below, I've put together a list of some of the items I buy from Aldi.  I've also included a few non-Aldi items which I've found cheaper/or better quality elsewhere.

Loo roll - £3.49 for 18 rolls from Home Bargains, nice quality and just as good as Asda's "Shades"
Tissues - 39p for a box of 70 sheets from Home Bargains.
Milk - 4pts as opposed to 2 litre bottles (you get more milk) - £1.00 at Asda, Iceland, Lidl and Aldi
Cat litter, absorbent clumping 10l bag - £1.79 Lidl/Aldi add a little bicarb to deodorise

Today at Aldi, I bought:

Peaches, 5 for 69p
Cherry tomatoes 65p
Punnet of plums 89p
Large punnet of white grapes £1.49
Two mangoes 99p
Lemons, 3 for 69p
Limes, 3 for 69p
Digestives 30p
Cat food 21p per Sheba-like tub, 2 of these a day is cheaper than Whiskas @ 69p
Tuna flakes in brine 49p
600g pack of frosted flakes £1.29
15 pack of free range eggs £2.29

Now in case you're wondering what I can make to eat out of that lot, I did buy my meat last week and most of it is still in the freezer waiting to be used.  Likewise with bread.  We don't use much so a sliced loaf is divided into smaller quantities and frozen until it's needed.

For a treat, Small and I had a bag of white chocolate buttons each.  The bags are very generously filled, so much so that half a bag each would have been quite enough.  At 35p for mine (he wanted to pay for his own out of his pocket money), I'm not complaining and the chocolate itself is delicious.  It reminds me of Milky Bar chocolate when I was a child, before they changed the recipe and it became overly sickly-sweet.

On that happy note, until next time. x

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Easy peasy kettle cleaner

If you live in a hard water area like I do, you'll probably suffer from limescale build up in your kettle.  It's unsightly, and causes the kettle to be less efficient.  You could of course buy one of the nasty commercial descalers, containing who knows what yucky chemicals, but there's an easy homemade descaler that works brilliantly.  Citric acid.  And if you can't find any locally from a home-brew shop, try eBay, which is where I bulk buy mine from.

Simply boil a half to three-quarters full kettle of water, then carefully add a couple of tablespoons of citric acid, then leave it for 15 minutes or so and check back to see whether all the limescale has dissolved or not.  If it hasn't, and you can't see any small bubbles rising from the water, then your solution is probably saturated and you'll need to add a bit more.  Keep checking back until it's all dissolved, and if necessary, reheat the water to almost boiling point and add a bit more citric acid.

If you want to turn this into an interesting home-ed science experiment, then you can (carefully) leave the kettle lid open and stand back and watch the limescale dissolve.  Of course children should never be left unsupervised near hot liquids, and it's entirely at your own risk whether you choose to observe this simple chemical reaction or not.

Either way, you'll end up with a super duper clean kettle.

While I was descaling the kettle, one of these landed on the cupboard door, and I managed to dissuade the cat from trying to catch it long enough for me to grab a photo of it.  Just be grateful I didn't remember to take a "before" shot of the kettle.  It was really acky.

Anyone know what type of moth this is?  It looks very like a flying leaf with legs and antennae.

Until next time.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

How many!

With a view to getting something, anything, planted up on the allotment once I've finished cutting it all back, I've been browsing seed catalogues and seed merchant's websites.  I've also been having both a chuckle and a cynical shake of the head at the same time.

The vast majority of packets of seed - which are by far the best (and cheapest) way of raising most vegetables - contain what, to me, are silly numbers of seeds.  Given that a lot of seeds lose their viability relatively quickly, who in their right mind needs 2,000 or 5,000 carrot seeds for an allotment or garden plot?  Well, unless you're a commercial grower of course!

Using the square-foot gardening method, one needs even fewer seeds as the object of the exercise is to plant sensibly and to do away with the need for too much thinning out.  Even with successional sowing, I can't imagine us realistically eating our way through more than around 200 carrots a year, or needing more than a couple of cabbage a month, or at most, a half-dozen lettuces a week.

While I could just as easily spend 99p on a pack of 2,000 carrot seeds, I've decided instead to opt for the pelleted variety which I can also buy for 99p, but only get 250 seeds and therefore there's far less waste.  If 200 out of the 250 grow to useable size, there's our carrots for the year.

It might seem like a better deal to get 5,000 seeds for 99p instead of just 150, but unless you want to either be wasteful and throw away more than half your plants, or else eat cabbage for breakfast, lunch and tea, perhaps it's not the most economical deal after all.  Especially when a lot of seeds are best bought fresh each year.

There's always an exception to the rule though, and earlier this year while rummaging in the very depths of the tin I keep my seed packets in, I found an unopened packet of Swede seeds, best before 2001.  Yes, 12 years ago.  Just for the hell of it, I opened the pack and threw a handful of seed into a row (before I read about SFG) and ... you guessed it, they've all grown.

Until next time.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Home Ed v School

There is a whole long list of reasons why I've chosen to home educate my son, but I can honestly say cost wasn't ever a consideration.  This is despite a lot of people assuming it is very expensive to homeschool, whereas they seem to think sending the kids to a state school is free.  But is it?

A recent press release I received stated that it costs an average of £1,614 per year to send a child to state school, with the cost made up of items such as transport, uniform and school shoes, lunches, out-of-school care, sports kit and trips.  And we must bear in mind that these costs are over and above the costs all of us incur when we have children.  When I think about what I actually spend on home ed, I'm sure it doesn't cost anywhere near that amount.

Thanks to the internet, there is an amazing amount of free stuff out there to use in education, and of course there's the local library which is an amazing resource that's often under utilised.  Home educators often get great discounts on things too, such as National Trust membership, and educational packages such as Mathletics, and there's free educational stuff too such as visits to English Heritage sites.  And as a home educator, there's no need to worry about having to take your holidays only during the school holidays either.

My biggest, and some would argue unnecessary expense, is books.  I could get the majority of them from the library and simply download the multitude of free worksheets that are available via the web, but I love them and I hope my son will love them too, so I tend to buy quite a lot - though only from charity shops, discount stores and ebay.  There are sometimes small expenses incurred in going to get-togethers (usually to go towards the cost of a venue), but even then it's often possible to negotiate a discount because we go as a group.

Later on there may be the cost of exams, but even that may be more do-able on a tight budget due to the changes in the way education for 14-16 year olds is funded.  From September, many colleges will offer some online courses and the funding, which was formerly paid to the LEA, will go direct to the college instead, which means the children don't have to be on a school register to qualify.

What most people have to cram in at weekends when everyone else is doing the same, we can do on quieter days during the week.  In fact we probably avoid going to attractions and the like at the weekend, but pro-rata end up spending less than a family whose children go to school, so we actually save money.  And we don't have the additional £1,614 to find either.

My vote would go to home education.  Not only is it able to provide a personally tailored education suited to each child's individuality, there's none of the pressure or expense associated with going to school either.

Until next time.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

The first of many

As part of my frugal plans for the allotment, pallets feature large on the agenda.  They're free!  In pursuit of that goal, I went foraging for some and managed to fit five into the car.  Two will be used to fence off Plot 57 from 56, and two are perfect for making the beginnings of the compost heap containers.

The fifth though was absolutely perfect, and in almost pristine condition, for dismantling and making into a 3ft square planter case for the square foot garden.  It still needs a weed-proof membrane stapling to the base, and I'm sorely tempted to paint the outside in my favourite colour - purple.  I see no reason why my allotment shouldn't be colourful!

First 3ft square planter case
Meanwhile, the "Rocket" potatoes I dug yesterday were made into another messy salad, and were absolutely delicious.  I shall certainly consider growing both "Rocket" and "Casablanca" again, as both were infinitely preferable to the "Charlotte" I grew last year.

And in other news, the bucket I planted up with some lettuces is doing really well, and these should soon be ready to harvest.

Until next time.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Garden harvest

Today we've harvested our second batch of GYOP spuds, which we've been growing as part of the Potato Council's education programme.  This time the variety is "Rocket" and the yield isn't bad at all, with some decent sized potatoes.

Homegrown "Rocket" potatoes
The pea crop has been a bit of a disaster this year, but we also managed to harvest a few peas.  I can't remember what variety these were, as the slugs and snails ate the packet which I'd used as an identifier.  Note to self: Next year, write on a wooden coffee stirer, they don't eat those!

My garden helper wanted to pose with the peas, and is looking forward to helping with cleaning, cooking and eating "his" potatoes.
Until next time.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Great inspiration

While trawling round the web looking for inspirational images of allotments, square foot/meter planting, and intensive growing, I happened upon this picture, which is borrowed from and © the Dervaes family of the Urban Homestead in Pasadena, California.

It was the fact there are just so many raised beds in the photo that caught my eye, jam packed with beautiful fresh produce, and initially, I just loved the layout of the garden.  It's inspiring all by itself.

A big "wow" escaped my lips when I realised that the family of 4 adults manages to grow a mind-boggling 6,000lbs of produce in a year, and somewhere on this home plot they manage to fit in chickens, ducks and a couple of goats too!  Not only do they manage to meet almost all their own food needs, they also have surplus to sell and make a living from.

What I found really phenomenal though, is that the family's growing space is just 1/10th of an acre, or approximately 20m x 20m, which, coincidentally, works out to be 400 sq m and roughly the same size as my allotment.  Can you guess what I'm thinking yet?!

OK, I have to be realistic.  It's taken the Dervaes's quite a number of years to get their plot looking this good, so I can't expect mine to be anything like it overnight.  Mine is also an allotment, whereas theirs is their back (and front!) yard.  I also don't know that I really want to produce quite as much as they do.

What their efforts do prove however, is that it's entirely possible to grow a significant amount of produce in a very small space.  It also highlights just how wasteful commercial food production is when you consider it apparently takes 1.2 acres to (commercially) produce the food for one person.  They manage to feed four people from 1/10th of an acre.

We can all take a leaf or two out of their book garden and grow some of our own food, no matter how small our growing area is.  Even if your "garden" is limited to a couple of buckets to grow lettuce in, DO IT!  The more food we can grow to feed ourselves with, the less we spend at the supermarket and the less hold the corporations have over us.  And if you have a lawn?  My advice would be to dig it up and grow food you can eat and feed your family with.

Until next time.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Half way on plot 57

A bit more progress on the allotment, with the strimming now reaching about half way down the plot.  I've now got around to measuring it, and it's 5m wide and 75-80m long (I didn't get into the very thistly bit right at the far end).  That makes the plot between 375 and 400 square metres, when the "average" plot size is 10 rods, or 250 square metres.  For those of us who prefer feet and inches, the plot's 4,356 square feet.

I think for once I'll stick to metres, as all those feet make it sound scarily big!  What am I talking about?  It IS scarily big!!

About half way down
Me in the distance, piling the cut stuff into heaps
Only half the jungle left to cut down
Looking back from half way down
Junior sitting watching in the distance
Somewhere in amongst this lot we've found the remnants of a few raised beds, although they're pretty manky and need repairing.  It's going to be a long while before I get anything growing on this lot, and I'm not realistically expecting to actually plant anything until next year.  But at least we're making progress.

Until next time.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Home grown potato salad

The lovely little "Casablanca" potatoes I dug yesterday were turned into a lovely, and cheap, meal.

Messy salad
Last night's version of "Messy Salad"

Enough new potatoes for each person (potatoes were homegrown and free)
2 x hard boiled eggs per person (hopefully next year I'll have my own chooks, 60p)
4 x cherry tomatoes per person (49p for a punnet from Aldi, so about 25p)
Baby lettuce leaves from the garden (free)
Half a pack of oak smoked streaky bacon, grilled and chopped (£1.00)
A dollop of mayonnaise (about 15p)

Mix it all up, and voila.  Lunch, or supper.

The whole meal cost £2.00, and I shared it with housemate (who's done really well and lost half a stone since he started the low-carb diet, so was allowed some potato), so it worked out at £1 per portion.  All in all, a very frugal, healthy and at least part home grown meal.

Until next time. x

Friday, 5 July 2013

First potatoes of the year

A while back, I posted about the potato kits Small and I got from the Potato Council as part of the "Grow your own" education scheme.

Grow your own potatoes kit
 As the tubers were rather late going in due to the very cold weather we had at the beginning of "Spring", I've left them a bit longer than the suggested 10-12 weeks for early potatoes and today's the day I tipped out the first growing bag to see what sort of yield we'd managed.

The potato type is "Casablanca" which is a first early variety.  The potato database has more info for anyone wanting to try this one for themselves.  My potatoes certainly have the nice creamy oval tubers described, but I wouldn't say the crop was particularly heavy given I had 3 tubers in the growing bag.

Just dug
After a scrub
I do sometimes wonder whether it's really worth my while growing potatoes, as the yields I've achieved from the garden aren't spectacular.  Last year's effort was a complete wash out, and the previous year was so dry they just didn't firm up properly at all.  Still, we don't eat that many potatoes anyway and there's always the allotment to try growing some on next year.

Speaking of the allotment, I suppose I'd better get back down there and do some more clearing up.

Until next time. x