Unicorn Rainbow Pancakes

Unicorn Rainbow Pancakes

My daughter had a great love of unicorns, and for some reason, rainbow things are associated with unicorns (I’m sure there is a lovely, sparkly reason, but I don’t know what it is).

She has been pestering me to make rainbow pancakes, and today was the day!

We have our ‘ go to’ pancake recipe, which is from my brother. He is married to a lovely Canadian, and I think he has tweaked her family recipe.

It makes about 24-30 small American (Canadian!) style pancakes, and usually we make a full batch and freeze half of it – it works perfectly well after the batter has been frozen and defrosted. This uses the full recipe.

As I’m a keen baker, we always have food colouring in the house for icing of various hues, so I dig out our trusty box of Colourflair gel colouring. Gels give a much stronger colour than liquid colouring, and don’t dilute the mixture.

Happily we had all the right colours for the rainbow, except orange, and of course that’s easy to make with red and yellow. For indigo we mixed blue with a bit of purple. If lots of food colouring scares you, then this isn’t the recipe for you. Or maybe try some natural alternatives.

Here is the basic pancake recipe:

Mix together:

375g plain flour

16g sugar

16g baking powder

Pinch salt

Then mix in:

3 eggs

350g milk

32g oil

I use an electronic scale that allows me to just keep adding the ingredients.

Whisk them all together until it’s a thick, double cream like consistency.

If you don’t want rainbow pancakes then you can cook it now, if you do.. carry on..

Divide the mix into 7 bowls – I ladle per bowl is almost exactly right to divide it into 7.

Mix in the food colouring.

Heat a frying pan until very hot. If it’s non stick you probably won’t need to add any oil (as there is some in the mix), but test it with a small bit of batter.

Each colour should make 3-4 small pancakes – around 6-7 cm diameter.

Once some bubbles start to show, flip them over. You should see them start to rise a little to make them fluffy.

My pan has a waffle pattern, so the pancakes are never smooth!

I put a piece of kitchen roll on the plate I am using so they don’t go soggy whilst the others cook.

Eat with whatever takes your fancy. We always have loads of fruit. I love a bit of butter and maple syrup, my daughter loves Nutella and raspberry jam.

Enjoy the washing up!


No Dig Allotment – Raspberries


We love raspberries in our house, and we have a couple of plants in the garden that we snack on every evening during the summer.

There are never enough, so it was a no brainier to grow plant at the allotment. My fellow plot holders have great raspberry plants, so they obviously grow well there.

I bought a load of bare root plants in November when I got the plot, and decided to keep them in pots at home until I knew where I wanted to plant them. I was really inspired by the gorgeous raspberry bushes at River Cottage when I was there for their festival in August.

This was my delicious breakfast – yoghurt, muesli, grated River Cottage apple, and River Cottage raspberries.

And this is me getting into the glittery festival spirit!

I bought a mix of autumn fruiting ones from Thompson & Morgan – Polka, Autumn Bliss, Autumn Gold (yellow), plus some summer fruiting ones from Sutton’s – Valentina, (orange) and some long cane Glen Ample – I wanted to actually have some fruit this year, so I cheated and bought the long cane Glen Amples from Sutton’s that come with one cane.

I also love tayberries & loganberries – they make the best jam. So I also bought 3 loganberry and 3 tayberry plants from J.Parker’s.

They all overwintered in pots in my garden, and I took them up to the allotment at the end of March

to plant them out. They were the very first things I planted!

I wanted to keep the summer and autumn fruiting ones separate, so I’ve planted them on opposite sides of the plot.

I dug a four trenches and hammered in stakes at either end of them all. I got my stakes from Green Tech, they were the cheapest I could find, and were recommended by a fellow gardener on Twitter (but I can’t remember who!).

My trenches are 2-3m long. I made longer ones for the summer/tay & loganberries and shorter ones for the autumn fruiting as I have less of those.

I then popped a bit of compost at the bottom of each and placed the raspberries in the trench. Approx 30-40cm apart. Because the soil is heavy clay, I backfilled with fresh compost, topped with some manure (which had been composting for about 5 months, so not fully composted) and then watered and covered with a heavy mulch of bark chippings.

I have put wires across the Glen Ample area as they needed tying in straight away. I will do the rest when needed. I used Gripple wire and tensioners from Gardening Naturally. Easy to do, should last well, and they don’t rust.

Around the edges I have put cardboard and woodchip.

In mid May I also planted some flowers at the ends of some of the rows. A cosmos, 2 dahlias and some sweet peas so far.

I have given them a heard start by planting them in fresh compost rather than the ground. I cut off the bottom of the pot so the roots can go deeper when they are ready.

And this is how everything is looking in mid-May:

The Polkas (looking good)

Autumn Gold and Autumn Bliss (bit patchy, they haven’t all leafed up) – I’ve let Thompson Morgan know, and they are replacing the autumn bliss, but don’t have any autumn gold left – they have given a refund for those, which is good, but means I only have 1 plant.

Tayberry/Loganberry and Valentina (bit patchy)

Glen Ample (looking good, with some flowers beginning to show)

There have been a few weeds peeping through, but nothing like the weeds around the site, so very pleased with the approach so far. I try and pull them when they are small, and I’m working on the idea of exhausting the roots by constantly taking off the greenery.

New No Dig Allotment – A Year In Pictures

New No Dig Allotment – A Year In Pictures

I thought it would be fun to take a photo of my plot from roughly the same place each month, right from the start. So here goes..

October 2017 (first viewing)

November 2017 (its mine! – taken from the back of the plot)

December 2017 – Feb 2018 (all covered up)

January 2018 (first mound flattened)

February 2018 (shed built)

March 2018 (first planting)

April 2018 (some raised beds built)

May 2018 (some raised beds planted)

The first six months…

No Dig Allotment – Strawberries

No Dig Allotment – Strawberries

The very first no dig bed to be planted up is the strawberry bed.

We grow strawberries very successfully at home in four grow bags on top of a rickety old table that was here when we moved in. However, we never have enough, so I knew I needed to plant some more at the allotment.

I bought the bare root plants from J Parker’s back in November, and planted them into a couple of plastic troughs. It is an ‘all season’ collection, with Honeoye (Early Season), Cambridge Favourite (Mid Season) and Florence (Late Season). They have been sitting in the greenhouse all winter, and I took them out a few weeks ago to harden them off. The recent hot weather has meant they have put on some good growth, and getting them last year and planting them into troughs means they are way ahead of where they would be if I had bought them in spring. There are already some flowers on them.

Firstly I prepared the bed with cardboard, manure and compost.

I decided to use weed suppressant fabric on top of the compost. This is to prevent any perennial weeds coming up from under the bed, and to stop annual weed seeds landing on the bed and taking hold. It also prevents the strawberries lying on wet ground and going mouldy. I think it will work well, as it’s similar to growing them in grow bags.

I cut a piece of fabric slightly longer and wider than the bed (which is 3m x 1m) and tucked it in all round the edges. I have loads because the whole plot was covered all winter, so it’s nice to be able to re-use it.

I then dug the strawberries out of the troughs and laid them on the bed to get an idea of spacing. They are 4 across and 9 along the length, so 36 in total. Honeoye is on the right, Cambridge Favourite in the middle and Florence on the left.

I then cut a cross in the fabric for each plant, and put them in the holes.

We couldn’t find the watering can, so mini-me helped me water each plant individually. We filled the bottles from the tap, we didn’t use bottled water on them!!

We gave them a good soaking as it is forecast to be hot over the weekend.

This is the finished bed. I put stones in each corner to help hold the fabric down, and one in the middle (after I took the photo). Once the plants grow, I don’t think the fabric will be in danger of blowing away.

These were planted on the 3rd May. It’s the 13th today, and already we have some berries forming. I’ve also added two cornflower plants (one at either end of the bed for some added height and colour).

Can’t wait to be trying our first strawberries from the plot! 🍓

Growing Dahlias From Cuttings

Growing Dahlias From Cuttings

I totally love dahlias, and have always divided my dahlia tubers to get new plants, in fact I didn’t know there was any other way.

Recently, I stumbled across a website or two that talked about taking dahlia cuttings, so I thought I’d give it a go. I love this video. It’s quite long, but very detailed. This is a website which gives good instructions. And of course Sarah Raven has some good advice.

I have a big new cutting bed in my garden (twice the size of the previous one), so I need plenty of plants to fill it! I will also give some away, and we have a plant stall at the school summer fete, so I plan to give some to the stall to sell.

I dug up all of my dahlias this year, so I’m going to try and take a few cuttings from all of them. In particular Cafe au lait, Seniors hope and Labyrinth, which are my current favourites.

I also bought a pot luck selection of 5 tubers from The National Dahlia Collection which I’m taking cuttings from – will be interesting to see how they turn out. They’re currently labelled mystery 1, 2 etc.!

I had them in a cold greenhouse, and I brought them inside for a couple of weeks to warm them up, and then put them in some potting compost. A couple of tubers in a shallow layer of compost in trays. They are on a sunny south facing windowsill (hooray for my 1930’s house with deep windowsills).

I covered them with a plastic lid, and put them on a heated mat (mainly because it was January and pretty chilly). I only had one mat, so just kept rotating them round! I also made sure to keep them well watered, as I noticed that it definitely helped them sprout (some got dry and hadn’t sprouted, and then magically did a few days after I gave them a good water). I think it was mid January that I put them in the compost.

It only took a couple of weeks to get them to sprout (pics below are end of January), and I kept the plastic lids on until they got too big.

By mid February they were ready to start taking cuttings. The ones below were taken on 18th February, and in reality could have been taken earlier, but I was on holiday!

They are in a mix of potting compost and vermiculite, and I just cut them close to the tuber, and took off the lowest few leaves.

I actually cut off more leaves a couple of days later, put them on some capillary matting and on the heated mat. They look a bit more bald, but it should enable them to make roots quicker, as they won’t need to feed as many leaves.

These are what the tubers look like after I took the cuttings. You can see that there are loads more ready to come.

A few weeks later (12th March), and the cuttings are looking great. Only a few losses (Cafe au Lait is proving a bit tricky)

It’s really interesting to see how the tubers have sprouted loads of new shoots since I took the cuttings. In the second picture below you can see where I cut the first shoot, and how loads of new shoots have sprouted from the base.

I’m really thrilled about how easy it is to create loads of new dahlias from a single tuber. I’ve also been reading about keeping small tubers of favourite dahlias in 4 inch pots so you can take cuttings from the same tuber each year (which would allow me to leave the rest in the ground), so I think I will try that too. Not sure how they will overwinter in pots, but I will cross that bridge next Winter!

New Allotment – Levelling The Plot

New Allotment – Levelling The Plot

As mentioned previously, When I chose it, I thought the plot was flat (well at least it wasn’t on a hill!), but it actually had lots of small hillocks and dips in it. It looked like an ancient burial site! From chatting to the other plot holders I think the previous tenant piled up the turf in random places when they created their beds.

I decided I want it flat so that I can put what I want where I want, rather than following the existing design. It would also be good to be able to walk across the plot without falling down random holes and spraining my ankle.

I checked with the ‘no dig’ guru Charles Dowding (he answered my tweet!) about digging to level the ground, and he said to go for it.

I also googled best ways to level allotments, and came across a recommendation to get an azada. It a sharp hoe like tool that you use in a chopping motion (see pictures below). I got mine from Get Digging – I got the medium one, and it has been completely amazing. I cannot recommend it highly enough. There is no way a spade would have dealt with the two long hillocks as quickly and easily as the azada did.

I have a dodgy back, and didn’t get a single twinge; I did get a few small blisters on my hands. But that’s because I’m a namby pamby office worker!

The other disadvantage is that because the hillocks were quite high I was swinging the azada above my head, which meant my hair was covered in soil!

Taking advantage of some sunny days in January and February, I put on my warmest clothes and decided to tackle two of the big piles of soil.

The first section was at the front of the plot, and was about 5 meters long, 1 metre wide and about 50cm tall. It was full of quite woody roots, but the azada made short work of it, and I just used the spade to re-distribute the soil. As you can see there was a trench around the mound, so I just used the soil to fill the trench. It took about 45 minutes from start to finish, including a few rest breaks in between digging.

The second task was to tackle the much taller mound on the right of the plot. It was only about 3 metres long x 1 metre wide, but it was quite tall – maybe 3/4 metre tall.

Again I employed the services of my trusty azada. There was a lot more soil in this one, so once I had filled in the trench round the outside I had to barrow it over to join the big pile of soil in the back left hand corner of the plot (under the pallets in the second photo below). It was about 6 barrow loads, and is really nice quality soil. I will use it to fill the raised beds when I construct them. Currently it’s sitting under some weed suppressant fabric to keep it weed free.

I’m really happy with how much flatter the plot is looking. After 3 months of being covered, the grass has died back, and I can see where the potholes and trenches are, which will make them much easier to fill – and there is plenty of soil in the mound at the back to give me a nice level plot. Next job is to build a shed. Happy days!

New Allotment- getting started


I love growing fruit and veg so much that I decided it was time to take the plunge and get an allotment.

I’ve been successfully growing all manner of things in my garden – in pots and a couple of raised beds, but thought it would be nice to take on something bigger. Particularly because we can never grow enough strawberries or raspberries!

The idea is to make it fairly low maintenance, and somewhere mini-me and I can hang out, and hopefully meet some like-minded gardening folk.

I’m really lucky because there are quite a few allotment sites near me, and as soon as I contacted the council they told me there were a number of plots at Colesmead allotments, which is a 5 minute drive away.

I had the choice of 4 plots, all roughly half plot size. I chose the flattest one, or so I thought! I also realise it is the same number as our house, so maybe it’s karma!

This is it the day I went to see it.

And the day I got the keys – the council had cut the grass. It’s roughly 8m x 14m, and despite the fact I thought it was flat, it’s covered in lots of little hills and dales, no doubt down to the previous owners beds.

There is a small pallet compost area (which I will make into multiple bays) and a hillock at the back, which is where I guess they dumped the soil they dug up. I’m going to use that to flatten it all out again.

I got the plot in November, and I want I be as much ‘no dig’ as possible, so I’ve covered it in black heavy duty weed suppressant fabric for the winter. I bought the fabric in a massive roll from Amazon, and whilst it’s not the cheapest way of doing things, I know I will be able to reuse the fabric for a few years at least.

I pegged it down with the plastic pegs that came free with the fabric, and I’ve since been back to put bricks/stones and pallets on top to help hold it down.

However, it’s been really windy this December/January, and I’ve already had to fix it down again twice. The first time it was flapping about. The second time (today – 6th January) it looked like this. Only the hillock with all the pallets on it was ok, and it had all blown onto my neighbours plot.

It’s good to see that it’s working in that the grass and weeds are dying off. And it’s interesting to get a better view of the previous beds. But it’s a pain in the arse to keep spending an hour to fasten it all back down.

So now it looks like this..

the wood is from some raised beds that I’m moving from my garden to the allotment.

And tomorrow I’m off up there again to put some more of the raised bed wood on top. I’ve also ordered some more pegs to peg down the edges a lot more. It’s when the wind gets underneath that it’s a disaster, so I need to try and stop that happening!

I know this year is going to be a lot of hard work, and then hopefully subsequent years will be easier. Wish me luck!

Update: I went to the plot the very next day after I first wrote this post, and it had all blown off again!!

So we added a lot more planks of wood, and I moved one of the pallets to the middle. I can happily report that I visited this morning, and all is looking well!

I uncovered the middle third of the plot to plant up some raspberries (see raspberry post for more detail), and this is what the ground looks like in mid March.

Lots of dead grass, but surprisingly, some very persistent grass that is green, and I assume is couch grass. The dark patches are where I’ve filled in some of the random trenches on the plot, with soil from the burial mounds or where I’ve been digging a trench for the raspberries.

I’ve covered it back up again, but it shows how long it’s going to take to get rid of the couch grass.

Here is a update from April/May – before I started planting the raspberries and building the raised beds.

If you get your plot on autumn/winter, I would definitely recommend this as a way of getting rid of grass and weeds.

I have now removed most of the fabric and covered the paths and most of the bits I’m not going to cultivate this year with cardboard and wood chippings (free from a tree surgeon). Hard work to lay (lots of barrowloads from the top of the site to the plot), but really lovely underfoot, no grass to mow, and will hopefully over time help improve the heavy clay soil.