All posts by Jenni Cresswell

BHOGG’s Starter Bed scheme at Weald Allotment site

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We are pleased to confirm that the Organic Starter Bed scheme operating at the Weald Allotment site has the green light from the Allotment team at B&HCC to continue in 2019. Read on to find out more about what the scheme is and why it has been so successful

In 2014 the Organic Gardening Group (BHOGG) worked in cooperation with the City Council’s Allotment officer to pioneer a project enabling 6-8 people on the Weald allotment waiting list to spend a year cultivating a “starter bed” and gardening on the organic community allotment. The scheme has been in place ever since, with great outcomes from a survey of users covering the period 2015-2018.

24 people were involved and responses were received from 16 with all 16 rating the scheme at “very good” on a scale of ‘very bad’ to ‘very good’. What participants loved: hands-on gardening experience outdoors, use of equipment, learning from each other and access to a breadth of gardening knowledge, sense of community engendering friendships and sociability.

All participants believed that the scheme helped them prepare effective for their own allotment or to continue as a volunteer on the community allotment to gain further experience. As one grower noted:

“It’s been really useful for learning what crops I would like to grow, how much work will be involved and what size Allotment might be manageable for me”

Of 14 people who have gone on to have their own allotments, 12 have successfully cultivated their allotments and we only know of 2 people who have given up. This appears to be a very low drop out rate compared to the allotment strategy figures for allotment holders generally.

There were no notable problems reported, and in fact participants suggest that more sessions and communal events be held. Unexpected benefits were reported, such as the impact of the plot on wellbeing for volunteers:

“Although I joined BHOGG to learn about organic gardening, I found it also had massive benefits for my mental health (I suffer from anxiety). The effect of going once a week has been very noticeable I i.e. I notice a change in my mood if I don’t go”.

In conclusion, there seems to be much to recommend this scheme, and support from B&HCC and from sponsors Infinity Food have made the project possible. It would be great to offer the scheme to a larger number of people and on other allotment sites.

“In my view the project is a wonderful community enhancing, educational and healthy living inspiring network and activity. People are helpful to each other, there is a good balance of personal accountability and group responsibility, co-ordination is brilliant despite that task being obviously akin to herding cats. I have personally enjoyed making new friends, the fresh air and exercise and feeling much more prepared for my own allotment when that time comes.”

If you are interested in becoming involved in the scheme, offering some volunteer time on the BHOGG Weald plots or in helping support the work of BHOGG generally, please do get in touch with us.  You can read Alan’s full starter bed scheme report here.

Organic Weed Control – or how to avoid herbicides

Autumn PlotSo, you’ve finally got to the top of the allotment waiting list and been given your long dreamed of plot. You arrive seeds in hand raring to go, but the whole place is covered in weeds. Is your first thought to reach for the Round Up? STOP!! There is another way – the organic way.

Inheriting a plot that has been neglected and allowed to become covered with annual and perennial weeds can be very disheartening, as can the similarly disappointing, but self-inflicted situation of missing a few weeks up the plot for one reason or another and returning to semi-jungle conditions. We’ve all been there, and the temptation can be to ignore it, eventually leading to us giving up the plot.

However, with a little bit of hard work initially, an organic approach can help you maintain a mostly weed-free plot without using any man-made chemicals. The time of year dictates how much initial work you will have to put in. Late winter or early spring is good time to make a start, as annual weeds will have died back over winter and root systems of more pernicious weeds will be dormant or weaker.

The first step is unavoidable manual work. Clear the worst of tall growth with shears, loppers and billhooks. Or, if you are able to borrow a strimmer, this can really help make a swift job of it. In fact, an electric strimmer may be a worthwhile investment, particularly if you are planning on keeping grass paths or a lawn area on the plot. This is also a good time to decide on a plan of where you want your vegetable beds to be, adding broad paths between them plus a wild area where you can let the weeds run riot to provide much needed habitats for beneficial wildlife.

 

It is worth digging out any obvious perennial weed issues (such as bramble). Every piece of weed root removed at this stage will be one less future weeding job. If you feel tempted to let machinery take the strain and rotavate the plot, a word of advice, this will simply chop up any perennial weed roots into smaller pieces and distribute them throughout the soil, meaning a healthy crop of weeds next year!

You then need to cover the soil (mulch). This effectively shades out weeds, protects the soil and the microorganisms from excessive sun and rain and provides a microclimate for those organisms to break down the mulch so you have a perfect planting environment for your seedlings later on. There are multiple materials for achieving this, and you may want to do some research on what works best for you. The topic of mulching is an immense one and would need its own article, however there are some excellent sites out there including those promoting other gardening principles that are synergistic with organic growing such as ‘no dig’ systems and permaculture. Ones to visit include: Charles Dowding’s Organic approach, Joshua the Gardener’s no dig gardning, Garden Organic website, Brighton Permaculture Trust.

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Bed which has been covered by black weed surpressant fabric, then hand weeded

My favourite method is to apply a mulch of compost or manure and then cover with large pieces of cardboard weighted down with wood or stones. I tend to peel back any remaining cardboard before planting, but it is entirely possible to plant through any mulch, layering up in a compost and cardboard ‘sandwich’ and continuing to benefit from the weeds being shaded out.

Once you have removed the worst offenders and covered the plot, you shouldn’t have to do too much to maintain it. You can continue to cover empty beds with a mulch, or perhaps more usefully use them to grow overwintering crops (such as brassicas, leeks, autumn sown onions, autumn sown broad beans) or to try out the dizzying range of green manures. These plants add nitrogen to the soil either by fixing it with their roots (leguminous plants) or by being incorporated into the soil by hoeing in. Again, look online for what suits your soil’s needs the best.

Evidence shows that it is much more healthy for the soil and its trillions of microorganisms to have plants growing in it. And this is true even if the plants happen to be weeds to us. The next best thing is to cover the soil with a mulch rather than leaving the soil bare. Supporting your soil is at the heart of organic gardening.

Top tips for keeping the plot mostly weed free:

  • Focus on cultivating ONE bed at a time. There is no need to dig over the whole plot! It is easy to get excited with plans for dozens of different beds, but try and be realistic about how much time you have to devote to the plot. You can easily grown more than one type of vegetable in the same bed; in fact this is a useful strategy to promote diversity and prevent disease for your crops.
  • Don’t do too much in one go. If you spend an entire day trying to tackle weeds, you will come away feeling disheartened and sore! Take on a small area and enjoy it. Why not invite friends along for some added muscle if you’re impatient to clear more space.
  • Address perennial problems as soon as you see them. Pulling up a dandelion seedling is much easier than digging out a well-rooted mature plant.
  • Where you have perennial or pernicious plants growing through paving or other hard standing areas, you can utilise heat to help you. Boiling water poured on the offending weed
  • Once you’ve cleared a space, keep it clear. That way you only have to graft once. Mulch, cover, plant, whatever method suits you.
  • Learn to love your weeds. Keep an area for wildlife – they will help pollinate your crops and help you fight off plant pests. Many plants we consider weeds are also delicious to eat: nettle, dandelion, chickweed, purslane, so don’t dismiss them entirely.
  • Find what works for you. Chat with other gardeners and of course, ask us at BHOGG!

Check out our ‘at a glance’ table of the best weed-busting methods.

Seedy Sunday 2019

Seedy Sunday 2019 did not disappoint with a day packed with interesting stalls, events and people. Over 2,000 happy punters had a great time visiting the seed swap, with over 2,500 packets of seeds to choose from, and visiting the 70 stall holders who were showing, telling and selling all things gardening and wildlife related.

We were busy on our BHOGG stall all day with people coming to renew membership or join for the first time, buy wonderful organic feed and to ask expert advice on organic gardening. Seedy Sunday is an important event for BHOGG and organic gardeners as seeds saved locally often have adaptations to local soil conditions and microclimates, making them more likely to grow well and need less support. Seed swaps also provide a much wider choice of varieties than it is possible to get from seed companies, and although they may not always be strictly organic, their local heritage is an added boon.

Kate Harrison from the Seedy Sunday committee told us what she loves about the event:

“I’ve been coming to Seedy Sunday almost as long as I’ve lived in Brighton – 17 years! If you’d told me back in 2003 that I might be on the organising committee one day, I’d have been amazed. What I love about Seedy Sunday is that every year I learn something new, I buy some eye-opening plant (this year: Sea Buckthorn and Chilean Guava), and I meet some fantastic people. The atmosphere at Seedy Sunday is so special – full of people saying hello to old friends, making new ones, and talking about their common passions – gardening and wildlife.”

Seedy Sunday was organised by around 50 volunteers this year that set up, packed down and helped on the day. They always welcome new volunteers, so get in touch at their website for more information on how to be involved in next year’s event.

If you didn’t get along to the BHOGG staff to renew your membership or join, then don’t forget you can do so online on our website.

Images from top left (all images copyright of Jenni Cresswell, except where stated otherwise): BHOGG banner, Pennard Plant’s potatoes (image courtesy of Fenella Burns), Seedy Sunday seed packets ready for swapping (image courtesy of Fenella Burns), Infinity’s potatoes (image courtesy of Fenella Burns), Thomas Etty’s heritage seed catalogue, Pesticide Action Network’s Pesticide Free City badges, BHOGG leaflet, Stanmer Organics’ willow decorations, Seedy Sunday bunting, The Monday Group’s bird boxes.

February Top Tips

Soil.jpeg1.  Plan your plot: crop rotation; put crops that need regular picking near a path; ones that need less attention (spuds, onions, leeks) can be in less accessible areas

2.  Tidy overgrown patches (brambles, ivy, etc.), but don’t be too tidy to allow an overwintering shelter for beneficial creatures

3.  Finish planting & pruning of deciduous trees, shrubs (but not those that flower before midsummer) & hedges (birds start nesting soon so don’t delay on hedges)

4.  Get your seeds & spuds at Seedy Sunday

5.  Get a couple of beds ready (weed & feed) for March planting of early spuds & onions.

Do this by taking out any overwintering weeds and adding a layer of compost or manure to the soil’s surface in a mulch. If possible do this when there is a sunny day and the ground is damp – as a mulch ‘seals’ the soil, it is better to seal in warm and moist conditions, rather than cold and wet ones. If the weather doesn’t oblige, place a cloche (cover) over the prepared soil to help warm it. You don’t have to invest in expensive cloches, you could source a large piece of clear plastic from some packaging – ask friends and family if you don’t have any – and do your bit for keeping some plastic out of the environment!

European Union Pesticide Authorisation – a helpful summary

wintergreensingreenhouseIn November 2017 the European Union (EU) agreed to grant a 5 year licence for the use of glyphosate* within the EU. This came after 18 months of debate between the agrochemical industry, which wanted a 15-year renewal of the licence for the use of glyphosate within the EU, and individuals, NGOs and environmental organisations who wanted the substance banned. The European Commission and those Member States that voted in favour of renewal chose to ignore the European Parliament and the 1,320,517 European citizens who signed a petition to ban glyphosate, reform the EU pesticide** approval process, and set mandatory targets to reduce pesticide use in the EU.

The European Parliament then set up a Special Committee on the authorisation procedure for pesticides. The first recommendations to address the issue have now been made. Possibly the most important recommendation is the proposal that the public should be granted access to the research submitted in order to authorise a pesticide.  Currently the data and information provided by the chemical companies (such as Bayer and Syngenta) is seen only by the authorisation body and is too often regarded by them as definitive. The new recommendation provides scientists and other specialists in the field a chance to analyse the data provided by manufacturers.

During this period of open access stakeholders will be able not only to comment on the findings, but also to provide additional existing data.  This allows for all relevant information to be taken into account – environmental impact, health studies etc. – which previously the authorisers have not been able to do.

The Committee also recommended that post-market evaluation should be strengthened.  This means follow-up research in real life use of the pesticide. It is hoped that they will launch an epidemiological study on the impact of pesticides on human health, for instance. Perhaps they will also look at the ‘cocktail effect’ of using a sequence of chemicals throughout the crops’ growing life.  Normally each chemical is approved in isolation – which is not how farmers and growers use them. The Belgian Greens MEP, Bart Staes said:

“We ask for full transparency with regard to the studies used for the assessment. To make them more independent and based on scientific evidence, to avoid conflicts of interests, to fully test active substances, to thoroughly test pesticide products, including the cumulative effects, and for stronger risk management measures.”

The recommendations were adopted with 23 votes to 5 and 1 abstention. The full EU House voted on the report during the plenary session of 14-17th January 2019, with a resounding majority for adoption of the report (For: 526 (79%), Against: 66 (10%), Abstain: 72 (11%)).

Notes:

*Glyphosate is the main ingredient in Round Up

**“Pesticide” is also used to describe herbicides, which includes glyphosate.

Article written by Mouse

See our article on local impact on ban here.

Brighton & Hove Allotment Federation Glyphosate debate

wasp on winter squash detailBrighton & Hove Allotment Federation (BHAF) held a site rep and members meeting on 23rd January. Part of this meeting was to look at whether a ban of the use of glyphosate could be proposed to Brighton & Hove City Council. Mark Carroll, Chair of BHAF reports back for BHOGG:

‘Although it appears that the majority of plot holders would like a ban on the use of glyphosate on allotments, there is a significant minority that do not think a ban is appropriate.

The reasons put forward are that it is a legal product which some people, perhaps elderly and less fit people, rely on to keep weeds at bay. A big problem for the site reps present at the meeting, who did not want a ban on its use, was that they felt it would be impossible to enforce a ban anyway. There are other products and mixtures available that will also kill plants, so how would a site rep know if it was definitely glyphosate that was used? It is true it would be difficult to ‘police’.

However there was agreement that careless use of glyphosate, which affected neighbouring plots should definitely be curtailed. It was agreed that there should be something included in the rules to this effect, and BHAF will work on this straight away.

Meanwhile, until glyphosate is banned, (and it seems increasingly likely it will be) we will continue to try and increase awareness of the dangers of its use. Not just the possible personal health issues of using it on your own plots but also of the serious negative effects to the wider environment and bio diversity which allotments provide.’

Over 80% of plot holders actively minimise the use of chemicals and aim for organic growing methods. So with this positive starting point, BHOGG and BHAF are committed to working together to promote organic gardening and help raise awareness about the harmful effects of using chemicals such as glyphosate.  Watch this space!

For more background on European Union’s debate around pesticides and glyphosate, read Mouse’s article.

Sri Lankan Leek & Potato Curry

There are a few hardy vegetables still out there to be harvested, and one of my favourites is the humble leek. It adds a wonderfully distinctive flavour to meals, yet stands through winter for year round use, unlike its rather more tender cousin, the onion.  This recipe provides some much welcome comfort food in the winter.

Ingredients

  • 1 red onion
  • 2 white potatoes, in thin slices
  • 2 large leeks, cut into 1 inch slices
  • 250g cooked chick peas (or a standard tin, drained)
  • 1 heaped dessertspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 heaped dessertspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 inch piece of ginger
  • 2 inch piece of cinnamon stick
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 8 curry leaves
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 100g creamed coconut (dissolve in ½ pint hot water)
  • salt

ingredients

Method

  1. Grind up cumin seeds, coriander seeds and fennel seeds using a pestle & mortar or grinder.
  2. Heat the oil in a large pan and add onion, garlic and ginger, frying until soft.
  3. Add the ground spice mix plus cinnamon, turmeric, chilli, curry leaves and salt then add the potatoes, leeks and chick peas and fry together for a few minutes.
  4. Pour on the dissolved creamed coconut and vinegar (ensuring there is enough liquid to cover the veg – add more if not)
  5. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the potato is cooked through
  6. Serve with rice

cooking

Adapted from the World Food Café’s Kandi Leek & Potato Curry recipe.

 

How to….Plant Garlic

8 harvestGarlic can be planted over a number of months from October to February, although the earlier you can plant, the longer the crop will have to mature (which can be handy if we have a poor summer). Traditionally, garlic is planted on the shortest day of the year and harvested on the longest, but you will find you probably need longer than this for larger garlic bulbs.

Garlic is available in 2 broad categories of soft or hard necked garlic. Soft-neck garlic is what you are most likely to buy in the shops as it stores well, but can have a milder taste. They tend to have mixed clove sizes in one bulb. Hard neck varieties are closer to wild garlic with the accompanying stronger taste, but doesn’t store for as long. These tend to have larger clove sizes. There is also Elephant ‘garlic’ to consider, which produces huge individual cloves, but this is technically a leek!

Whatever variety you decide on, buy your bulbs from an organic supplier and check that the bulb is firm and free from mould. Tempted to plant that sprouting garlic in the cupboard? You can plant garlic you’ve bought from the shop, but it potentially won’t have the disease resistance and vigour that seed bulb garlic will have.

Choose a position outdoors that will be sunny. Prepare the soil by adding some manure and forking this in well.  Make sure the soil is loose to a good depth – as deep as you can do easily by hand (unless your soil is very compact, then you either need to dig it over properly, or add a lot of organic material if you choose ‘no dig’). Draw the soil into raised rows allowing room to plant cloves 4 inches apart and at least 6 inches between rows.

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Break open the garlic bulb to access the individual cloves within.   Each clove will grow into a new bulb. Place the individual garlic gloves along the rows of soil to get the spacing right, then gently push them into the mound until the tip of the clove (pointy end) is even with the top of the soil. Draw up a little of the soil to cover the clove to a depth of around 1 inch.

5 plant bulbs detailPlace a physical barrier over the planted area to deter birds and other creatures from unearthing the bulbs. If this does happen, simply gently push the cloves back into the soil and draw soil up to cover them again.  There is no need to water the garlic in, and in fact, unless there is very little rain, there is no need to do anything else with the garlic except sit back and wait.

Harvest the crop when the top of the plant has gone from green to brown, dried out and looks dead. Lift the bulbs from beneath the soil and leave them somewhere dry and warm to ensure all moisture is removed. Store somewhere cool and well ventilated, and use as you would shop-bought garlic.

If you have a large crop and you can’t wait to taste it, you can harvest the bulb when it is ‘green’ – the top of the plant will still be green and growing, and the bulb will not have separated out into individual cloves. This can be used in cooking and gives a fresh, welcome treat to dishes in early summer.

There is a chance that in wet conditions the bulbs can get white rot. This is a fungal disease that rots the crop from the roots up and is very hard to control once it occurs. The best organic defence is to lift and burn infected plants and avoid planting garlic, onions or leeks (all from the allium plant family) for 7 years. This is hard to achieve in a small space, so attempting to avoid it initially is the best bet.

Try out these recipes to use your garlic in: Courgette pesto and Ema’s chilli, garlic & ginger sauce.

 

 

How To….Make a Wildlife Pond

10 Mature Pond

A pond is a really useful resource in a garden, providing a habitat for important beneficial insects, invertebrates and vertebrates, which are natural hunters of pests in the garden.

There are infinite versions of ponds, differing materials and a wide range of websites offering you support with how to make a pond.

We have done some reading and put ideas into practice to produce a short ‘how to’ guide on making your own wildlife pond. This is not a definitive guide, just offering you some practical tips in a step-by-step format.

Step One: Choosing your pond material

For our pond we chose a flexible PVC liner with protective underlay. Ideally a wildlife pond would be made from puddled clay, but that is a rare resource in chalky Brighton, so we opted for a liner from a professional supplier with a 5-year guarantee. Well protected from sunlight and sharp stones, there’s no reason the liner won’t last a lifetime. Other options include pre-formed plastic liners and rubber liners. Decide on what suits you best depending on the space available, how large you want it and what your budget is.

If, like us, you opt for a flexible liner, you need to work out what size to buy. Many online pond companies provide a calculator to work out this out depending on what size you want your finished pond.

Step Two: Choosing your pond site and size

1 Mark out site

Choose the place you want to put the pond and mark out the shape and size you have decided on. Using sand to mark the outline is helpful to visualise the final shape. As a general rule, you should choose a sunny site with no overhanging vegetation and the ground should be a level as possible.

A pond needs to be as large as you can accommodate (or afford), but make sure it is at least ½ metre deep to avoid it freezing solid in winter. The pond we made is 2 x 1 x 0.5 metres. Choosing an irregular shaped design is important for wildlife and looks attractive.

Step Three: Digging Out the Pond in Layers

Decide on how you want to place the layers of the pond. A good way to think about it is like an upside down fried egg – the deepest point of the pond need only be relatively small with shallower layers towards the edges. Make sure one edge is very shallow to allow pond fauna to access the water.

One website recommended using vertical (rather than sloping) edges, using a back filling technique over the liner with sub soil. This is possible where you have dug deep enough to hit subsoil – we didn’t go that low for this project. We did dig vertical sides except for our sloping ‘shore’ (seen in the lower part of the picture).

Take care with digging out the soil – plan to do the work over a few days so you don’t injure yourself, or get some friends to help share the work. Also think about where you want to move the excavated soil to – it can be a surprising amount even from a small hole. Keep back a small amount of soil to use to bury the edges of the liner under at the end.

Step Four: Lining the Pond and Filling it

Place the liner protector over the dug out space and carefully mould it to the shape of the pond as closely as possible. Overlay with the liner and do the same. DO NOT CUT THE LINERS YET!

Fill the pond using tap water; this is recommended as it is less nutrient rich than rain water and will help keep out unwanted growth as the pond establishes.

Take care as the weight of the water allows the liner to make contact with the soil – make sure excess liner is carefully pleated and folded to make good contact with the soil. Keep adjusting as it fills.

Step Five: Trimming the Lining and Finishing off

8 trim liner

Once the pond is filled with water, you can trim and bury the edges. Trim about 30cms from the edge all around the pond. You can secure the liner by placing some of the reserved soil you dug out over the edges. It’s important to shade plastic liners from sunlight and you can use off cuts of the pond liner to cover up where it may be exposed.

Wildlife ponds benefit from a range of materials being placed around and near the pond. We used some paving slabs on one side to provide some shade over the pond and weight to anchor the liner. Don’t use slabs all the way around – they get very hot in the sun and small aquatic fauna entering and exiting the water can die from the heat exposure. We used small rocks and stones around the shallow ‘shore’ edge to create a wetland area, and a habitat pile of cut wood to provide damp, dark environment for toads, frogs and newts. Characterful decayed wood was also used to add interest to the overall effect.

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Step Six: Adding Plants

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Now you can introduce some water plants to the pond. Make sure you choose these carefully, going for native options and ensuring they won’t get too big for the pond resulting in having to clear the pond of overgrown vegetation. Choose plants for differing water depths, but make sure you have at least one oxygenator and that around 70% of the water surface will be covered by vegetation. This prevents too much nitrogen building up causing algal blooms and other unwanted growth.

Step Seven: Trouble shooting

The pond is likely to go a murky green a few days after filling and planting. Don’t panic, it will soon turn clear once everything has settled down. However, even with the best will in the world, it is likely that you will get unwanted visitors such as duck weed or the dreaded blanket weed. Pull out what you can as it arises and try using barley straw – a packet of straw which magically suppresses overgrowth of blanket weed and other algae without upsetting any of your wanted plants and animals.

Damselflies mating

Sit back and enjoy watching the visitors arrive: water boatmen, pond skaters, damselflies, dragonflies, mayflies, caddis flies, water beetles, toads, frogs, newts, and even birds looking for a bath!

For more information, look online, and check out our favourite pond expert: @petethepond

Rosehip Jelly

Rosehips are a wonderfully colourful and cheery sight in the local hedgerows, but they also make excellent jams, jellies and cordials, reputedly high in Vitamin C. Take advantage of this year’s bumper crop and make some tasty jelly to cheer up your frosty mornings.

All rosehips are edible, but make sure you only pick berries from plants you can identify as roses.

Ingredients

500g Rosehips

500ml water (approx)

3 apples (for pectin)

Juice of a lemon

1.5 cups of sugar

Method

  1. Rinse fruit and top and tail, removing any bad berries.
  2. Boil rosehips in enough water to just cover the fruit. Add apples and boil all until soft and mushy.
  3. Pour mixture into a muslin bag and strain overnight.
  4. Return juice to a wide bottomed pan, add lemon juice and bring to the boil.
  5. Add sugar and boil until setting point is reached (jelly ‘wrinkles’ when placed on a cold saucer).
  6. Bottle into sterilized jars and keep in the fridge once opened.

A great homemade Christmas gift!