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April 27th  
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Fancy growing your own vegetables this year?

There’s nothing quite like it – you can be absolutely sure there’ll be no nasty chemicals added, and you’ve got all the benefits of eating very fresh, very seasonal foods which are packed with nutrients.

The only downside is that you might find yourself with 50 lettuces or 25 courgettes at once on your hands, so make friends with the neighbours!

Here’s the Cosy Home guide to getting started with preparing your vegetable garden.

Raised beds for vegetables

Raised beds look attractive and make tending easier, as you don’t have to bend down as far to work them.

If you’re planning to get serious with your veg, raised beds are a great investment. They’re easier to reach and weed, improve drainage and can be used to hold a different soil type, if the native soil in the garden isn’t suitable.

For one or two small raised beds, you can use a ready made kit. Retailers such as Harrod Horticultural, Wickes or Homebase sell a good range of raised bed kits made from different materials that are easy to put together. Or you could buy the raw materials yourself and build one from scratch.

Whatever method you choose, make sure you leave a good pathway between beds and that there’s plenty of room to work them from all sides.

Raised beds keep plants warmer, but they also have a tendency to dry out in hot weather so ideally make sure you have a source of water nearby, or get ready to fill and carry a lot of buckets!

Raised beds are ideal for growing your own, but aren’t a necessity – you can grow a lot of vegetables very successfully in ordinary flower beds, or troughs or pots, depending on how much space you have.

Planting ideas

When you’re ready to start growing, dig in a good layer of manure into the beds.

Planting a row of herbs at one end of the bed looks attractive, adds colour, fills in any unused space and encourages pollinating insects.

Potatoes

Potatoes are an easy and satisfying crop for a beginner. Ask your supplier to recommend a hardy variety.

Potatoes are easy for beginners, and you’ll have plenty of delicious new potatoes for salads and steaming.

Buy special seed potatoes from a garden centre, and let them chit before planting. (To chit potatoes, spread them out in a cool, dark place until they sprout. When the sprouts are a good few centimetres long, you can plant them.)

Plant second early potatoes in early spring (April), then change to maincrop potatoes.

Peas and beans

Turn trellises of peas and beans into an architectural feature in the bed.

If you’re planning to grow peas or beans, build the trellises now for support.

These plants will grow up almost anything, but if you’re planning from scratch you might like to consider making your own rustic supports with twigs or thing branches, pushed into the ground in a circle then bound together at the top with string, so the finished support is bell-shaped.

In mild weather you can plant the peas and beans now, but get ready to cover them with fleece in case of late ground frosts.

Tomatoes

Baby tomatoes will show little rounded leaves called ‘seed leaves’. Wait for adult leaves to come through before potting them up.

If you’re growing tomatoes from seed, plant them now indoors. Keep the soil moist but not wet, as tomatoes like a lot of water.

As the seed starts to sprout, it will grow with little round ‘seed leaves’, then gradually develop jagged-looking true leaves. At this stage, you can transplant the seedlings into individual pots or growbags.

Other vegetables

If you’re growing less hardy vegetables such as courgettes, pumpkins, cucumbers or celery from seed, you can start off trays either in a greenhouse or indoors.

Hardier crops such as parsnips, beetroot, carrots, Swiss chard, summer cauiflower, turnips, spring onions, cabbages and radishes can be sown directly into the ground now. Garlic and maincrop onions can also be planted now.

Where to buy vegetable seeds and plants

Good places to buy vegetable seeds online include Sutton Seeds, Thompson & Morgan or Wilko. Look out for offers on seeds, if you’re planning on buying multiple packets.

Most garden centres sell ready-started trays of vegetable seedlings, if you want an easier job. Some nurseries and garden centres sell plants that are certified organically-grown.

eBay is also a good place to look for both seeds and plants, as there are growers who sell popular seeds and vegetable plug plants when they’re in season. You might even strike it lucky and find a local grower who you can buy and collect from.

(Images courtesy of Pixabay)

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April 20th  
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Spring’s a wonderful time of year – the flowers are starting to come out, there are leaves on the trees and longer, brighter days. The downside of all that extra light is that you might get a bit of a shock when it streams through the windows!

If you’re getting ready to tackle the spring cleaning, keep yourself motivated with these bright, quirky and fun accessories.

1. Rubber washing up bowl and brush, Normann Copenhagen

Rubber washing up bowl and brush, £60 from Design 55

New materials and manufacturing processes bring this simple washing up bowl into the 21st century. Made from rubber, it will bend and fit in to any sink and is 100% dishwasher safe. It comes complete with a washing up brush made with real bristles, and is available in black, grey or mint green. £60, available from Design 55.

2. Fred Dust Bunny dusting mitt, KitchenCraft

Fred Dust Bunny Mitt will help make spring cleaning less of a chore

You’ll have the children lining up to help you with the housework with this cute mitt, made out of super-cling microfibre so dust doesn’t have a chance. Toss it in the wash to make it like new again. Guaranteed to turn a boring job into one that makes you smile, Fred costs around £10. For more information and stockists, see KitchenCraft. 

3. Princess laundry bag, The Contemporary Home

Girl’s laundry bag, £10 from the Contemporary Home

Fed up of nagging your little princess to pick her tiara up? Make sorting dirty laundry more of an occasion with this princess laundry bag. It features a cartoon of a princess on the front and the words ‘Please wash me’, with ‘laundry’ on the back. £10, available from The Contemporary Home.

4. Kitchen cleanser,Mangle & Wringer

Natural kitchen cleanser by Mangle & Wringer, £5.80

We’re always on the lookout for cleaning products that do their job but aren’t packed full of chemicals. This kitchen cleanser is safe, natural and biodegradable, cutting through grease and grime on all kitchen surfaces. Safe for use on marble, granite, chrome, ceramics, enamel, plastic, paintwork, glass and stainless steel. Great for removing tarnish on silver too. £5.80 from The Cottage in the Hills.

5. Bucket dishwashing set, Zone Denmark

Washing up set by Zone Denmark.

Cut your sink side clutter and with this four piece washing up set, designed to keep everything tidy in style. The set includes a microfibre dish cloth, one-hand-operated refillable soap pump and free-standing scrubbing brush (with a replaceable brush head),all in a bucket with an integrated T-shaped handle for easy repositioning and for draping the wet dishcloth over. Available in four colours, £40 from Red Candy.

6. Blue shore birds dishcloth, Kippan

Shore birds dishcloth, £3.99

Washing up isn’t the most popular chore, but this sponge cellulose dishcloth from Swedish company Klippan will make it a little more bearable. £3.99 from And Shine.

7. Flora sink brush, Kizmos

Kizmos Flora sink brush

With an easy to hold handle, this sink brush is great for cleaning those hard to scrub plates and dishes and is especially good when cleaning the inside of tall glasses. It also adds a little colour to a dark corner. There’s a separate drip holder to stand up the brush and keep your worktop surface dry and clean. Priced around £5, for more information and stockists visit KitchenCraft.

8. Large enamel caddy. Laura Ashley

Cleaning products caddy, £18.20 from Laura Ashley

Keep cleaning materials and other household items neatly stored with this large caddy. Divided into four sections this caddy boasts a contrasting wooden handle and is subtly embossed with Laura Ashley branding, while the cream enamel finish give it neutral appeal. Was £26, now £18.20 from Laura Ashley.

9. Spray and Go natural cleaner, Mangle and Wringer

Natural multi-purpose cleaner, £5.60

This safe, natural and eco friendly multi purpose cleaner removes grease and grime from all hard washable surfaces with no need to rinse. It contains all natrual ingredients including aqua, acetic acid, coconut and sunflower oil soap, lemon oil, palm free vegetable glycerine, potassium chloride, potassium citrate. £5.60 from The Cottage in the Hills.

10. Dolly dustpan and brush, MAIDEN

Dolly dustman and brush, £6.50

This quirky dustpan reminds us of Dutch dolls, and it’s certainly a change from basic grey plastic! £6.50, available from MAIDEN.

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April 10th  
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With connotations of cool, gracious outdoor living, furniture and accessories made from rattan are perfect for adding a touch of colonial style to any home. We take a closer look at what it is and how to care for it.

What is it?

‘Rattan’ is a collective name for around 600 species of palm, which grow in tropical regions such as Africa and Asia. It’s also known as manila or malacca. 

Unlike their close relatives palm trees, rattan plants look more like slender stems of bamboo with a diameter of between one and three inches, and they grow like vines, using other vegetation for support.

A single rattan plant can grow to be hundreds of feet long! The stems are solid wood rather than having a hollow core like bamboo, and as a result they’re very strong and durable.

The stems are cut and steamed to shape into furniture and other items, and the outside peel used to bind the stems together.

How to look after rattan

Rattan’s very versatile, and can be made into almost anything from chairs to trays to lamp bases. As it’s a natural material, though, it does fade if exposed to strong sunlight.

It’s also not very good at getting damp, and if it frequently gets wet or is stored in a damp place, it may go mouldy. Most manufacturers will apply a coat of lacquer or sealant to rattan furniture to make it more weather-proof and practical. It’s easy to care for, and doesn’t normally need any special attention, although as it’s porous unlacquered furniture may stain if you spill something like coffee or red wine on it.

To reduce the appearance of stains or simply give it a bit of TLC, put a few drops of washing up liquid into a bowl of warm water. Dip a cloth in, and squeeze it out until almost dry (excessive moisture can damage the rattan).

If you do get it too wet, dry it off with a hairdryer. Use a dry toothbrush to clean out any crevices.

To rejuvenate old, dry rattan, boil up some linseed oil in an old pan, and apply it with a paintbrush. Leave it for a few hours between coats. When the rattan won’t absorb any more oil, buff off any residue with a soft cloth and, in the case of furniture, leave it to dry completely before using it.

Synthetic rattan

Although manmade alternatives will never quite capture the texture and colours of the real thing, there are now some very good synthetic rattans available which have the advantage of being completely weatherproof. Some are even made in the same way, and woven with strips of synthetic material.

We love:

1. Louis rattan French white bed, Newtons

Louis VI style rattan bed, £759 from Newtons

For a true touch of colonial luxury, how about this gorgeous Louis XV style caned bed?  It has a hand-carved solid mahogany frame with rose motifs, a curved foot board and sustainable rattan woven by hand. Was £949 for a double bed, now £759 from Newtons.

2. Rattan paperclip stool, Mia Fleur

With a retro 70s vibe, this rattan stool, £89 from Mia Fleur, is useful as well as attractive.

This striking green rattan stool is perfect as an occasional seat for when you have guests, but also makes a nice way to showcase a favourite plant. Made from natural rattan and painted in dark green, it costs £89 from Mia Fleur.

3. Grey washed rattan rectangular coffee table, The Orchard

Add some eco elegance with this traditional rattan coffee table, £468 from The Orchard

At just over a metre and a half long and a metre wide, this coffee table would suit most sizes and styles of room. Made entirely by hand using organic materials, each one is slightly different. £468 (also available in a smaller size) from The Orchard.

 

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April 4th  
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If you’ve vowed to ‘be more organised’, then decluttering your house in true spring clean fashion is a great place to start.

A clean, tidy house will make you feel calmer and if everything’s filed and sorted you’ll save lots of time looking for lost essentials under piles of stuff.

‘Clutter’ is subjective, and one person’s ‘crowded’ is another person’s ‘cosy’, but as a rule of thumb, if it’s not adding to your life in some way, either practically or aesthetically, you probably don’t need it. It’s better to let all that clutter go on to have a useful life elsewhere by donating or selling it.

Here’s how to tackle decluttering, the Cosy Home way.

1. Take it step by step

Tacking a whole house might seem ridiculously daunting, so break it down into more manageable stages. Work on one room at a time, or even one cupboard. Clearing out kitchen cabinets and throwing out anything past its sell-by date is an easy starting point and very therapeutic!

Take everything out of the cupboard and clean it out. Then, put back only what you really need or love. Put any (non-food) items straight into a box to donate to charity.

2. Don’t stop

Once you’ve started the good work, keep going! Even if you only spend an hour a week, you’ll get it done in the end.

Set yourself goals for motivation, such as ‘This weekend, I’ll clean out the garage before I go out for dinner/go for a walk/go to the cinema.’

3.  Enlist some help

Rope in the rest of the family as well and make it into a game, competing to see who can fill the most boxes to donate to charity.

Engage children’s interest by asking them to choose which charity will receive the donation.

4. Be tough

Many of us have drawer and corners stuffed with items that we feel emotionally attached to but will never use or even look at again.Good examples here are gifts or legacies from relatives, clothes and shoes with special memories or childhood paraphernalia.

No-one would suggest not hanging onto things with a genuine emotional attachment such as baby shoes or wedding dresses, but often we keep things such as gifts because we don’t feel quite right about getting rid of them.

Hiding something you’re not that keen on in a drawer is a waste, both of your space and the object itself. Put aside a pile to sell online, and use the money to buy yourself something you do love – you’ll think of the giver every time you use it.

If you have photographs of you wearing your special clothes, you don’t really need to keep the clothes themselves, especially if they no longer fit you – selling them online or giving them to charity will mean they have a second lease of life, and someone else will have a chance to love them.

The mantra here is ‘you don’t need the objects themselves if you’ve got the memories’.

5. Keep it clean!

Once your home is a haven of tidiness, try not to let the clutter creep back in.

Things like opened post can quickly spread over hall tables and kitchen counters until you’re back where you started, so buy an in-tray, find a home for it and put post that’s waiting for attention straight into that. Keeping flat surfaces clear goes a long way to creating a feeling of space.

6. Dress down

Wardrobes tend to be a clutter blackspot. Empty everything out and lay it all on the bed while you give the wardrobe a good vacuum and wipe out.

Then, take each item of clothing in turn and ask yourself the following questions. Does it still fit? Is it still wearable (i.e. in fashion)? Have you worn it in the last year? Put any garments that don’t get a resounding ‘yes’ to one side.

If you haven’t worn them recently, why not – do they need cleaning or repairing, or have you just gone off them? Make a pile of anything that needs a little TLC (i.e. buttons to be replaced, dry cleaning needed), and bundle everything else up for the charity shop or for selling.

Do the same with shoes, and be honest – how many pairs of black court shoes do you really need? Most of us tend to wear 20% of our wardrobe 80% of the time, so do some serious sorting.

By Sara Walker

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March 19th  
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Eggs are traditionally associated with this time of year, symbolising new life and new beginnings.

Most of us have moved on to egg-shaped chocolate – but if you still have a penchant for a good old-fashioned boiled egg, we’ve picked out our top ten favourite egg cosies, guaranteed to keep your breakfast piping hot while you wait for the toast to brown.

Keep your eggs cosy and warm, with these fab egg cosies!

1. Bunting egg cosy, Tickety Boo

How cheery are these little cosies, made from calico and cotton?  Machine appliqued with a bunting design on on one side and either a heart or an egg on the other, they’re fully lined in cotton coordinated fabric. If boiled eggs were de rigour at garden parties, this is how they should be served! £8 each, available from Tickety Boo.

2. Rabbit egg cosy, Catherine Tough

Made in the UK, this little knitted rabbit cosy, £12.50, is made from 100% lambswool for insulation.  With long ears and a hand stitched face, this little chap will brighten up breakfast time every morning – if you’re not a pink person, it’s also available in light grey.  Pop a chocolate egg underneath for an Easter surprise! Available from Clare Loves.

3. Polka dot hen egg cosy, Gisela Graham

Give your boiled eggs the star treatment and your breakfast table a touch of farmhouse fun with these cute egg cosies. Available in pastel pink, blue, green and yellow, these polka dot hen egg cosies will cheer up the morning meal for all the family. £5 each, available from The Contemporary Home.

4. Pheasant egg cosy, Sophie Allport

A cute way to keep your spare boiled egg warm while you tuck into the first, perfect for farm breakfast tables and country kitchens! This egg cosy is available in a wide range of designs, £6 each, from Sophie Allport.

5. Bee egg cup and lid, Annabel James

For something more unusual, how about this silver-plated egg cup with domed lid ‘cosy’ to keep your eggs warm? Made from hammered silver plate, there’s a little bee motif as well. This would make a lovely Easter gift, or birthday present for anyone who loves their eggs, toast and honey in the morning! £28.95 from Annabel James.

6. Chick egg cosy, Catherine Tough

This pretty knitted egg cosy is made with a leather beak and hand-sewn eyes. Made from soft, felted, 100% lambswool to keep your eggs warm and delicious until it’s time to eat. Really bring the farm to the table this Easter and brighten up breakfast time with this knitted cosy, £13.50 from Cuckooland.

7. Swallow egg cosy, Sophie Allport

The pale sky blue cotton fabric of this egg cosy features delicate illustrations of swallows in different shades of blue. It’s an elegant and subtle, summery design, perfect for gracing a lazy Sunday breakfast table. £6, available from Sophie Allport.

8. Personalised linen egg cosy, Hope and Cotton

A linen egg cosy, £7.50, personalised with your choice of letter, this makes a lovely personal gift. Made from natural linen and lightly padded to keep your breakfast egg really warm, they are available in red, pink, light blue and navy blue. The initial is appliqued to the front in a polka dot cotton, with co-ordinating stripy lining and handle. Made by Hope and Cotton, available from Not on the High Street.

9. Hand crocheted egg cosy, The Little Boys Room

Irresistible to all children, this could be the best way you’ve ever found of getting them to eat their eggs! These 100% cotton hand crocheted egg cosies are available in six different designs, including princess, chicken, Viking and this cute long eared rabbit. £9.95 from the Little Boys Room, available from Not on the High Street.

10. Set of four sheep egg cosies, My Babou

This flock of four little sheep cosies will keep everyone’s eggs warm. They come in different colours (cream, green, teal and pink) so everyone can have their own, and they’re knitted then felted from pure 100% wool milled in Scotland. £29 for the set from My Babou, available from Not on the High Street.

By Sara Walker

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March 14th  
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The 17th March is St Patrick’s Day, when the world goes a little crazy for Ireland.

The man himself, St Patrick, was born around 385 AD , although his exact birthplace isn’t know he’s unlikely to have been a native of Ireland. He was kidnapped by pirates in his teens and taken to Ireland as a labourer before escaping.

He later returned to Ireland to help spread the Christian word to the population, and later became the second bishop of Ireland.

Image: Pixabay

Although we associate the annual celebrations with Ireland and particularly with Dublin, the first celebration of St Patrick’s Day was actually held in Boston, USA by Irish settlers in the mid 18th century.

Now, huge events and parades are held across the world to mark the occasion, including in Romania, Egypt, Rio de Janeiro, Russia, Lithuania, Italy, Tokyo, the UK and the USA as well as Ireland. In Chicago, the river is dyed green every year, a process that involves forty pounds of powdered vegetable dye.

Image: Pixabay

If you’d prefer to have your own Irish-themed party this year, here’s what to do:

Drink

Guinness, of course! The iconic Irish stout has been Ireland’s favourite beer since the mid-18th century, and on 17th March over 13 million pints are drunk across the world.

Alternatively, how about some Irish coffee to finish off dinner?

Per person, you’ll need two tablespoons of whipping cream, one tablespoon of sugar, 50ml Irish whiskey such as Jamesons and 200ml strong fresh black coffee.

This coffee has an attractive layered effect (in fact, it looks like a miniature pint of Guinness!) so it’s best served in clear, heatproof glasses rather than cups.

Heat the glasses beforehand by pouring hot water into them, then whip the cream until it thickens (don’t make it too solid, it should still be quite sloppy). Tip the hot water out of the glasses and pour in the whiskey.

Add the coffee and sugar and stir to mix everything up. Finally, pour the cream over the back of a spoon on the top of the coffee (this helps to distribute it into a floating layer), and serve.

We like:

This glass beer tankard, £6.95 from Rigby and Mac, is ideal for serving the perfect pint of Guinness.

Make short work of lots of bottles with this retro wall mounted bottle opener, £9.95 from Melody Maison.  The lower section will catch bottle caps so they don’t end up all over the kitchen.

Eat

Traditional Irish food, such as Irish stew, soda bread and champ, can be a little heavy. For a starter or light lunch, try this take on colcannon, a traditional dish of cabbage, bacon and potato. You could also make miniature versions to serve as canapes.

You’ll need: 500g of potatoes, 1/4 Savoy cabbage, 75g sliced back bacon, 1 egg, 75ml double cream, salt and pepper, 2 to 3 tablespoons flour, 75g butter and oil for frying.

Peel and slice the potatoes, and boil until tender. Meanwhile, finely slice the bacon and cabbage and fry them gently together in a little oil for five minutes. Take them off the heat and set aside.

Drain the potatoes and mash them with the butter and some seasoning. Leave until cool, then fold in the cabbage, bacon and egg. Dip your fingers in flour, and shape balls of the mixture, pressing them flat.

Fry the cakes in oil for 2 to 3 minutes each side until crisp and golden brown. If you’re not serving them immediately, keep them hot in the oven until required.

We like:

This Chartreuse green American Modern dinner plate, £28, by Russell Wright, ideal for serving miniature colcannon cakes as canapes. Available from Eclect Design.

Serve the cakes as a starter with a little salad on this lovely chunky craft terracotta plate in teal, £14.50 from Quince Living.

By Sara Walker

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