Learn how to make Crystallized Flowers

Unique, beautiful, and natural decorations for cakes and desserts

Make your own Homemade Country Wine

Author Ben Hardy, of Ben's Adventures in Wine Making, shows us how to get started with brewing our own homemade wine. Also included are recipes for 'Strawberry Wine' and 'Rose Petal Wine'

Planting a Honey Bee Friendly Garden

Learn what you can do to help encourage honey bees and other beneficial insects in your garden and greater community

Upcycle a Photo Album into a Seed Organizer

Recover a spiral bound photo album in inspiring fabric and use the slots inside to organize your seeds

How to Make Natural Soap Series

This is the first of a four-part series showing how you can make your own handmade and natural soap at home.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Happy Weekend

It's been a very busy week at Lovely Greens and I'm very proud to announce the start of my YouTube Channel. Since 2011 I've been blogging about my experiences and tips on gardening, beekeeping, preserving, soap making, and projects, and have decided to say hello to the world in a new format - video. I plan on releasing video tutorials for both new and past posts and hope that they'll be able to better show you how to recreate some of my recipes and ideas.

I've embedded my first two tutorials below for you to watch - if you like them, I encourage you to subscribe to my channel and to also share it with your friends. I'd also love feedback and ideas so please feel free to leave me a message in the comments section below. My aim is to release a video tutorial at least once every two weeks so by subscribing you'll be notified of when they're available.

It's a four-day weekend in Britain and the sun is shining! I'll be spending some time relaxing with friends but will also be working in between in my allotment, making handmade soap, and brainstorming future posts. I think I'm going to try to move as many of my activities outside though - the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and it feels like summer is just around the corner.

Another thing on my agenda is finding a new site for my third hive of honeybees. My current apiary is really only large enough for two and the wild bees that moved into an empty nucleus last year is ready to move into a bigger hive. I've been offered a potential site so I'll be dropping by later today to have a look around. It's in a newly planted orchard but there are established gardens in the area as well. It sounds promising!

Have a wonderful weekend and see you soon :)

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Edible Flowers - Crystallizing Primroses for a Cakes and Desserts

Though most people think of flowers as ornaments for the home or garden, many of them are in fact edible. Lavender buds can be pressed into cookies, the essence of roses is used to make Turkish Delight, and Nasturtiums brighten up a summer salad with their peppery orange blossoms. There are dozens of edible flowers to choose from and when used fresh they add a beautiful and colourful element to both sweet and savoury dishes. But if you'd like to preserve the flowers for longer, one of the prettiest ways to do so is to crystallise them in sugar.

Primroses are one of the most common and beautiful spring flowers and they also happen to fall into the edible category. Though personally I don't think they taste like much on their own, when coated with sugar they transform into a beautifully sweet and natural decoration that can be used on desserts and cakes.

Primroses are low-growing plants with rough, tongue-like leaves. The colour of the flowers may vary but they'll likely be a creamy yellow with a darker yellow centre if you find them growing wild in the countryside. You may well have them growing in your garden as well and in that case they can be pink, purple, white, or a range of other colours. All colours of primrose are edible.

How to Crystallise Flowers  Egg wash - lightly beat the white of one egg with a teaspoon of cold water Edible flowers and leaves - I'm using Primrose flowers and Peppermint leaves Sugar - fine textured white or brown granulated sugar will do. Icing/powdered sugar is not suitable.  1. If you're sure the flowers are clean don't bother washing them. If you do wash them then you must let the flowers dry completely before continuing. 2. Using a clean paintbrush that has never been in contact with potentially toxic substances (think oil paint), paint the egg wash on a flower. Make sure to coat the entire surface, both front and back.  
3. Pour 1/4 cup of sugar into a bowl and once the flower is coated in egg wash, place the flower in with the sugar. Coat as much of the flower's surface as you can then take it out and place the flower face-down on a tray lined with baking/kitchen paper. Leave to try for between 1-2 days; primroses take about a day to stiffen up but some of the thicker flowers and leaves will take longer.
4. Once hardened, use the flowers to decorate cakes, cupcakes, and desserts. You can also crystalise Primroses well in advance since they can last for up to a year if stored in a dark, dry place. These flowers are also so pretty that they're perfect for decorating a spring cake or even being packaged up in tissue paper and given to a friend as a gift.
If you've used light coloured icing, like I have on my cake, edible leaves, such as Peppermint, create a nice backdrop for the flowers. You could even use them to recreate a rosette of Primroses like you'd find growing outside in the spring sunshine.
Other Edible Flowers
This is not a comprehensive list and if you have experience with another flower please let us know about it in the comments section below
Angelica - celery flavoured
Borage (Starflower) - cucumber flavoured
Burnet - lightly flavoured like cucumber
Calendula (Pot marigold) - lightly peppery
Carnation (Pink) - spicy and anise-like
Chamomile - light apple flavour. Use only the flowers.
Chives - onion flavour
Gladioli - lettuce flavour
Hollyhock - no definable flavour
Impatiens - no definable flavour
Jasmine - sweet and floral
Lavender - fragrant and floral
Lilac - lemony and floral
Nasturtium - peppery
Pansy - lightly sweet to tart
Primrose - lightly sweet to no flavour
Rose - sweet and aromatic. Use only the coloured parts of the petals
Runner and Climbing Beans - crisp and bean-like
Scented Geraniums - faintly citrusy
Snapdragon - no flavour to bitter
Squash & Pumpkin Flowers - sweet 
Sunflower - may be slightly bitter but adds a lot of colour
Violet - sweet and floral
Sources for edible flower information:

Friday, 11 April 2014

Happy Weekend

I'm not sure how it happened but spring is finally here. The days are longer and lighter, the sun actually feels warm, and my bees are very busy flying out collecting nectar and pollen. It's been such a mild winter that when I visited my hives this week I found that they had plenty of honey still in the comb. I also noticed that there was some uncapped honey so that tells me that they're already topping up their supply with fresh stores.

Both my full sized hives are healthy and multiplying and the Green Hive seems to have fully recovered from the bout of Nosema (a fungal infection) it had over the winter. I also have a small colony of bees in a tiny hive called a 'Nucleus'. I hope to move them into a full sized hive once I find a good location to set up their new home.

It's still very early in the season to expect too much from the allotment but I have plenty of fresh rhubarb, perennial welsh onion greens, purple sprouting broccoli, and mushrooms from the compost we've brought in for the association. I've sown my peas in trays again this year and will plant them out once they have grown a couple inches tall. I'll direct-sow the next succession of peas but only after I soak the seeds overnight and they start to sprout. If I didn't do this I'd come back to find precise little holes dug over each seed like I did two years ago. Mice love munching on dried peas!

There's wild food to be gathered in this time of year and in particular, Wild Garlic (also known as Ramps or Ramsons). I live along the top of a small glen and the drive up to the house is lined with the tender green leaves of this flavoursome herb. You can use the tender green leaves in everything from omelets to stir fries and I experimented this week with using them to flavour homemade pizza. You can find my recipe at this link - it's absolutely delicious.

I've been at the new house for a few months now but have only begun letting my cats, Louis and Cheebies, outside this past week. I was concerned about the number of dogs without leads in the area but also that Louis would get into fights with Oliver, the neighbour's Tonkinese. As you can see from the below photo, they're still not the best of friends but they're fascinated with each other and follow one another around the garden. It's great to be able to let the cats outside though - they love rolling around on the warm paths and playing in the grass.

Aside from writing my blog I also produce a line of handmade bath and beauty products. One of my most popular items is my Healing Neem Balm for those suffering from Eczema and Psoriasis and I made an extra large batch of them today. They're setting at the moment and most of them will be sent off to customers through the post.

The way my Neem balm works is by first creating a light, moisture-retaining barrier on the skin with beeswax and cocoa butter. Shea Butter, Sweet Almond oil, and Castor oil are added to soften and condition the skin and finally Neem oil is added to help reduce itchiness and speed up the healing process. Neem's natural medicinal properties have been used to heal skin issues for generations.

I plan on adding a lot more bath and beauty related tutorials to this blog in the future and this week I shared my recipe for Rose, Lavender, and Oatmeal bath bombs. These beautifully scented bath treats don't take very long to make and are perfect for enjoying yourself or giving as gifts. Their all natural ingredients are also safe for youngsters to handle so it would be a fantastic creative project to get teens and younger girls involved in. They'll love both making and using these fizzies.

The chickens are also very much enjoying the warm sunshine and spend a lot of time basking on their little sun deck. I'm still looking for a good solution that will allow them to free range in the grass outside their run though. The flock has been cooped up since the beginning of the year but unless I opt for an electrified fence, I'm afraid I won't be able to let them out anytime soon. Oliver, the neighbour cat, hunts them through the wire mesh and I'm fearful that he'll nab Skinny since her leg appears to be permanently lame. She can fly alright but Oliver is quick! In the meantime, they get plenty of treats including sunflower seeds and bananas.

I hope you've enjoyed my little update and that wherever you are, you're also enjoying the warm spring sunshine. Have a fantastic weekend :)

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Wild Garlic Pizza Recipe

I'm really making the most of Wild Garlic this year. This delicious wild herb grows just down the lane from me and is a fantastic flavouring for all sorts of savoury dishes. Known also by the name 'Ramps' or 'Ramsons', it has a delicate oniony-garlic taste that I love paired with cheese, typically in pastas.

Yesterday I decided to make something a little different though and took the wild garlic and cheese combo to the next level - homemade pizza. It's easy enough for anyone to make and you can put whatever other toppings on that you'd like. I've gone for a 'white' pizza (no tomato sauce) and have topped it with mushrooms initially then mushrooms, purple sprouting broccoli, Calendula flower petals, and basil on the second one. I literally used what I'd picked from the garden and foraged from the glen yesterday. But add whichever toppings you'd prefer - pizza is a food that lets you get creative!

Wild Garlic Pizza Recipe
Makes three 12" Pizzas

Handmade Pizza Dough - I used Pizza dough flour from the Laxey Glen Mill and the instructions from Jamie Oliver's website. Divide the quantities by three to make dough for just three pizzas.

Five Wild Garlic leaves - chopped
1 Tbsp grated Parmesan
1/4 cup grated Mozzarella cheese
Toppings: I used sliced Mushrooms, Basil, Calendula flower petals, and Purple Sprouting Broccoli
1 Tbsp extra Virgin Olive oil
Sea Salt

1. First forage for your Wild Garlic. It grows in cool, shady, wet places and is available in early spring. For more information on how to find and identify it, please visit this link.

2. Make your pizza dough - it's fairly straightforward but will need at least an hour to rise. If you can find pre-made pizza dough then that may be another option for you.

3. Preheat your grill to medium-high or oven to 200°C / 400°F.

4. If you've divided the Jamie Oliver recipe by three, as I've done, you'll have enough dough for three pizzas. Take the first lump of dough, dust in flour, and roll it out with a rolling pin so that it comfortably fits on your baking tray or pizza stone. I have an inexpensive pizza tray with holes in the bottom that makes sure that the bottom of the pizza gets crisp too.

5. Drizzle with the olive oil, sprinkle your wild garlic on top, then the cheese. Arrange your toppings over the cheese and then sprinkle sea salt.

6. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until the pizza crust has browned and the cheese is bubbly. Enjoy ~

Wild Garlic, Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Calendula, & Mushroom Pizza

Wild Garlic & Mushroom Pizza

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Monday, 7 April 2014

How to make Natural Rose, Lavender, & Oatmeal Bath Bombs

Natural bath bombs are relatively easy to make since they require only a few main ingredients and very little in the way of equipment. Making a small batch should take you well under half an hour so it's also a great project for those with little time. I've made these on my own as a rainy day project but I can imagine it would be really fun to make them together with friends or the younger ladies in your family.

The essential oils used in this recipe are gorgeously floral and work well with the dried lavender and rose petals I've chosen for decoration. Not only are there flower petals on top but there's a secret cache of flowers that are released when the bomb is placed in your bath!

Another thing that makes this recipe different is that I've included quick oats in the base recipe. Oatmeal turns your bath water milky and silky and is wonderful for soothing dry and irritated skin.

Rose, Lavender, & Oatmeal Bath Bombs
Makes three medium (6cm / 2.25" diameter) round bath fizzies and one mini

1/2 cup (110g) Citric Acid
1 cup (290g) Baking Soda (UK: Bicarbonate of Soda)
1/4 cup (25g) Quick oats
1/4 tsp Lavender essential oil
1/8 tsp Rose Geranium essential oil
Flower petals (Lavender buds and Rose petals)
Witch Hazel - in a spray bottle
Bath bomb mould - Bath bomb moulds look a bit like round Christmas tree ornaments and indeed you could use one of them as a mould in a pinch. I've done it before though please watch your fingers if you have to cut one in half. 

1. Sift the Citric Acid and Baking Soda (Bicarbonate) into a bowl. Sifting removes any clumps from either and will ensure a smooth and even consistency in your finished bath bombs. If you're using a scale to measure your ingredients, place the bowl with your fine mesh sifter nested inside directly on top and pour the ingredients in. We like saving time!

2. Pour your quick oats into the bowl and stir really well. Next, drizzle your essential oils on top and mix everything really well. I find that using my hand is far better than a spoon since I can break any clumps with my fingers and make sure that the fragrance is evenly dispersed.

3. Now here comes the trickiest part to describe. You'll want to spray this mixture with Witch Hazel until it reaches a slightly damp consistency. The best way to describe this is maybe damp sand on the beach that is just starting to dry out. With my mini spritzer I spray three squirts and then mix really well with my hand. I keep adding three more squirts and mixing until the consistency feels right. What you're looking for is the mixture holding form when you squish it into a ball in your hand. With my mini sprayer this took eighteen squirts though of course your sprayer may be different.

4. Bath bomb moulds come in two pieces with one side fitting inside the other. Take the half that has the lip that fits inside the other half and place a few dried flower petals at the bottom. These will be the pretty decoration you see on the top of the bath bomb so arrange the flowers in an attractive manner.

5. Take a handful of the damp bath bomb mixture and carefully pour it on top of your flower arrangement. Use both of your thumbs to compact the mixture down but leave a hollow in the centre. Fill this hollow with more dried flower petals and then sprinkle more bath bomb mixture on top. Don't compress the top mixture just yet and set this half of the mould down for a moment.

6. Take the second half of the mould in your hand and fill it with bath bomb mix. Press down with your thumbs to compress but don't leave a hollow this time. Top it off with a bit more bath bomb mix and like the other half, don't compress this top layer yet.

7. Carefully pick up both halves of the moulds and place them together. Press firmly so that the mixture from both halves compresses together.

8. Pull the 'bottom' mould off your bath bomb then gently tap the bomb out of the second half and onto a surface where it can dry. If your surface is too hard, it's likely that the bottom of your bath bomb will flatten so I dry my own bombs on a folded towel with a sheet of cling film on top.

Depending on size, Bath Bombs can take anywhere from twelve to twenty-four hours to dry. After this, you're able to package them up, set them somewhere to scent the room, and eventually pop them into your bath for fizzy and fragrant relaxation.

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Thursday, 3 April 2014

Handmade Daffodil Soap Recipe

I'm obsessed by Daffodils at the moment! They're growing in my garden, along the lane running up to the house, and seem to be popping up everywhere I look. For me, these cheerful golden flowers tare a sure sign that Spring is truly here. I must be obsessed with Daffodils because Spring is definitely my favourite time of the year.

Recently while researching natural colours that can be used in cold-process soapmaking I came across a reference to using Daffodils. Though the bulbs and sap of these lovely flowers are dangerous if ingested, compounds derived from the plant are sometimes found in beauty products including a body moisturiser from Nu Skin and a facial toner for dry skin made by Gatineau.

I've used several different natural ingredients to tint my soap yellow but I have to say that I'm really pleased by the buttery tone of this Daffodil soap recipe. It's a natural golden colour that suits a citrusy scent such as Citronella or May Chang essential oil but could equally be paired with a fragrance oil if you're not averse to using them. I'm sure there are also some gorgeous spring scented options that would perfectly suit this recipe including a 'Daffodil' scented one that I saw for sale online. You could even go the extra mile and pour your soap into daffodil inspired moulds!

Daffodil Soap Recipe
800g / 1.76lb batch
all measurements are based on weight, not volume

110g / 3.9oz NaOH (Sodium Hydroxide)
220g / 7.76oz Daffodil Infused Water - see method below
15 Daffodil flowers - yellow flower parts only

320g / 11.29oz Olive oil Pomace
200g / 7oz Coconut oil
200g / 7oz Sustainably Sourced Palm oil
80g / 2.8oz Shea Butter

15g / 0.5oz (4tsp) May Chang Essential oil
10 drops Grapefruit Seed Extract

NOTE: The instructions below are very basic and are meant to be used in accordance with the method I detail in my Natural Soapmaking series - see this link for how to make the soap at home.

To make the Daffodil Infusion: pour 300g of scalding water over fifteen daffodil heads (have a look at the second photo in this blog). Allow to seep until the water reaches room temperature and then puree the flowers and water until there are no large bits. Strain this mixture through a cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer and measure out 220g of it to use in the recipe. After that's sorted, follow the basic soap making instructions I've put together at this link.

Temperature: I mixed the oils and lye-solution at 48°C / 118°F and then insulated the soap afterwards so that it 'gelled'. By insulating the soap after it's poured into the mould, the temperature will rise before it starts to cool and the colour of the soap will intensify.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Recipe for Wild Garlic Noodles with Bacon, Mushrooms, and Cheese

We're now well into the season for picking Wild Garlic, also known as Ramps or Ramsons. It's one of the easiest wild foods to identify and if you find a patch, it will likely be prolific, making it a guilt-free wild food. When you find it growing, there's generally going to be far more than you'll ever be able to forage in your lifetime let alone an afternoon.

With a flavour and scent similar to ordinary garlic, but less intense, wild garlic leaves can be used to flavour any number of savoury dishes including soups, stir-fries, pastas, omelets, and salads. They're a fantastic wild food to use this time of year though the leaves do tend to wilt within a day of picking. So if you're planning on finding some to make this recipe, try to make sure that it's going on the table as soon as possible.

What to look for: Wild garlic will have white flowers a little further into the season but by that time it's probably past its best. It's March and April that you'll find the leaves green, tender, and just begging to be whipped up into a fantastic dish. The leaves are long with a centre rib and end in a point. Before you actually spot a clump it's very likely that you'll smell them first. Both before and after picking, the leaves have the strong scent of garlic that makes them unmistakable. Though it's said that wild garlic leaves are similar in look to those of Lily of the Valley, there's no chance of mistaking them. Lily of the Valley will not smell like garlic in the least.

Where to look: Wild garlic loves shady, moist places such as woodlands with a stream or pond nearby. If you know a place where bluebells grow, then try looking there first since they prefer the same growing conditions. I find that here on the Isle of Man, wild garlic likes to grow on overgrown walls such as in the above photo. This is really handy since it means that you can forage for leaves without any worry about them being below dog pee level. Still, if you find a patch on flat ground, go for it, making sure that the leaves you select are well away from any footpaths.

Recipe for Wild Garlic Noodles with Bacon, Mushrooms, & Cheese
Makes 4 servings

This is a hearty, flavourful, and fat-free dish. Well, I might be fibbing on that last part a bit but you can justify using the bacon fat and rich cheeses by the fact that you've spent an afternoon walking and foraging for your supper!

350g Pasta noodles (Spaghetti or Linguine)
300g Bacon
250g Mushrooms
Handful of Wild Garlic, rinsed - there's an example of how much I use in one of the above photos
200g Feta
2 Tbsp grated Parmesan
2 Tbsp Cream Cheese (Philadelphia or the like)
1 Tbsp Butter
1/4 cup of Milk

1. Grill or fry your bacon until crispy - reserve the fat. Roughly chop the crispy bacon and then set aside. The bacon will be one of the last things to be added to the dish but you want the fat to flavour the mushrooms.

2. Start boiling your pasta in salted water.

3. Brush any dirt/compost off your mushrooms but don't wash them or the texture will suffer. Slice each in half then heat a pan to medium-high with the reserved bacon fat. Lay each mushroom down in the pan, flat side down and leave them there until the flat sides are all nicely browned. Then give the pan a shake to brown the rest as best you can. When they're all fully cooked, scoop them out of the pan and set aside.

4. While the mushrooms are sautéing, roughly chop the wild garlic.

5. Heat the same pan that you cooked the mushrooms in (with the bacon-mushroom residue still inside) to medium, melt the butter then add the milk. When it's bubbly, add 3/4 of the feta, the cream cheese, and the Parmesan, and whisk until it's all fully melted. Add half of the chopped wild garlic and leave the sauce to heat through for an additional five minutes.

6. When the pasta is fully cooked, drain it then place it back in the pan. Pour the sauce over the noodles and stir it well. Add the rest of the wild garlic and stir again. 

7. Serve the pasta with a generous sprinkling of bacon, a handful of mushrooms and crumbled Feta. The salt from the bacon should be enough to season the dish but have a bite to make sure it's to your preference before serving. Enjoy ~