My First Pickings of Onions and Chives

Over the past few weeks Kristina and I have tried to use some of the onions and chives* I grew successfully.  We use the onions in salads and vegetable meals and add chives to any meal that needs herbs. We still have a lot more to use but thankfully they have kept well outside and in the refrigerator, despite maturity over a month ago.

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The onions are strong in taste and feel, with a healthy skin that peels off easily. Although other onions tend to cause my eyes to water when I cut them, my produce do not. Plus I can expect to gain another thirty or so in the near future.

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The chives are milder in flavour and texture, and look like tall, hollow grass. Still they have a distinctive onion smell when cut off with scissors. I tend to chop them finely just as I place them in the cooking mixture.

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*I now know the WasteBuster seeds I planted were indeed chives and not salad mix.

My 13th Blood Donation

I donated blood for the thirteenth occasion this afternoon, on my birthday. It was the fifth time I donated at Witham Public Hall and only took forty-five minutes [14:30-15:15]. My iron pre-donation test was quick – the part I worry most about – and actually waited longest in the new reclining chairs just prior to the injection of the needle. I made sure the pressure on the sphygmomanometer was comfortable – which I found is measured in millimeter of mercury (mmHg) – after issues in the past. I also followed the recommended exercises – clenching my buttocks and crossing my legs – despite feeling sore after recent runs and looking rather more eager than everyone else present. It did mean I donated my 570ml of blood in a personal best time of 6 minutes, 56 seconds. I rewarded myself with a large cup of orange squash, two cereal bars and a packet of crisps, courtesy of the NHS Blood Service.

Except for a some harmless extra bleeding when the needle was taken out of my vein the session went as smoothly as it ever has. I enjoyed donating on my birthday and look forward to my next occasion in December.

My Second Batch of Tomatoes

Last Monday (11 August) I re-examined my out-of-date tomato plants  I planted around two and a half months ago. Despite some neglect, the Moneymaker tomatoes have survived well. Unfortunately the Marmande variety did not. These were subsequently placed back into the potato pots for future use.

Dead Tomatoes Pre Planting

So I spent most of that morning and early afternoon focusing on transplanting the Moneymaker tomatoes into new pots with more space to grow and fruit. It was a struggle not to damage the roots too much and find the right pots and positions together but I managed to save all twenty-five developed and two underdeveloped plants. I kept them inside on both the kitchen and downstairs bathroom window ledges to avoid the same problems as last year’s tomato attempts. I also placed saucers or tubs under each plant to avoid mess and water spillage. Although I expect there will be good drainage I have limited my watering to a quick activity once each day.

Tomato 1 Tomato 2

Tomato 3 Tomato 4

Tomato 5

I am hopeful that as some of the plants are tall, strong and already flowering my yield will be a success. I am prepared though to move the plants, straighten them with small sticks and feed them tomato food wherever necessary before Kristina and I manage to eat them.

Growing Willow Trees

Yesterday morning Kristina and I ‘planted’ two willow trees each. We acquired the twigs free from the Willow Phoenix* stool at the Fling Festival we attended last month in Chelmsford (see http://www.chelmsford.gov.uk/fling for more details). Following the advice on the accompanying paper we kept the buds pointing upwards with the slightly trimmed twigs resting in a glass of water. Kristina has also added some tomato feed, which is an option to aid growth. We placed the glasses on our sun-soaked kitchen windowsill and expect to see the first shoots and roots in a few weeks’ time.

Twigs

Hopefully we can achieve more than my potential fruit trees I began July 2013. Sadly, none of the nectarine or cherry pips managed to establish in the soil tubs in the refrigerator. As a result of the mould I had to throw them back to the earth. I may attempt more in the future, but more research is certainly needed first.

Dead Pips

* An eco arts business based in Essex (www.facebook.com/1willowphoenix1) who planted another four trees themselves on our behalf.

Future Berries

Yesterday afternoon I reexamined my strawberry plants. Since my last check I have gained another nine strawberries, which although not as large or juicy were still tasty.

Strawberries

I got rid of weeds and planted all the plantlets ready to grow in new pots [this will bring me a total of 21 plants]. I repeated the same process as I did last year [except I used paper clips to secure the plantlets in position after I ran out of hairpins].

Plantlets

There are possibly more plantlets to utilise in the near future but I do not expect much more activity until next summer. Although a shame, these results do not represent failure; my baby strawberry plants from last year are still in the early stages of maturing [according to advice found at www.strawberryplants.org]. Therefore, I have much hope for next year’s harvest.

On a more positive short-term note wild blackberries are now fruiting and ready to eat. I cannot wait to pick them soon with Kristina.

Vegan Sugar-Free Cookies

On the afternoon of Thursday June 26 I attempted to produce homemade alternative vegan cookies. I wanted to eat the sugar-free version of a tasty treat using ingredients I already had. So I researched some recipes* and decided to experiment.

The first batch I baked included the following ingredients; 

150g plain four,
150g vegan margarine,
20g sultanas,
squeeze of lemon and lime juice

This resulted in six yellow flat dough circles.

Batch 1

The second batch I baked included the following, similiar ingredients;

150g flour,
100g vegan margarine,
sprinkle of cocoa powder,
squeeze of pineapple juice

This resulted in six rather more brown flat dough circles.

Batch 2

Although easy to make [mix all the ingredients into a bowl then place on buttered trays] the process took over two and a half hours at an oven temperature of around 180°C, primarily because the cookies did not change much in texture and appearance [hence all the cookie incisions to check they were done].

End Result

Although I could taste the difference between the two sets of cookies the absence of sugar made them a savoury treat. Plus, they crumbled easily and so acted more like biscuits. Still, Kristina enjoyed them and it allowed me to test out new ideas regarding vegan baking. I reckon more research into the roles of vegan ingredients is required if I am to improve my kitchen skills.

*My inspiration came from Sugar Free Recipes (www.sugarfreerecipes.co.uk/sugar-dairy-free-biscuits.html) and Vegan Baking (www.veganbaking.net/recipes/cookies/peanut-butter-cookies).

My Potato and Strawberry Harvest of 2014

For several days I have wanted to uproot my Goodland’s brand wilting, yellowing Wilja potato plants, which had long since flowered, to witness my yield. Only, the recent poor weather and lack of time meant I have delayed until this morning. Despite the rain Kristina and I had recently used up the last of our potatoes purchased at Witham Market so it seemed appropriate to harvest my efforts now. 

I started with the plants in the glazed terracotta pots, uprooting the plants then sifting through all the remaining soil for any extras. The results were rather promising.

Pot 1

Pot 2

Then I uprooted the potatoes in the planter bag designed for spuds and although it did not generate as many, it still produced the largest individual potatoes.

Planter
Aside from the few underdeveloped, rotten ones I am delighted with the impressive outcome, which totalled 1.8 kilograms. I have stored them in a reusable tote bag as suggested in
Grow Your Own Crops in Pots (2013) by Kay Maguire but due to the overcast conditions I could not harden the skins in the sun. Still, according to The Vegetable Expert (1985) by Dr. D.G. Hessayon this oval potato variety holds excellent cooking qualities and stays fresh for a fortnight. This should be ample enough time to attempt a host of different recipes outlined by the Love Potatoes website, found at http://www.lovepotatoes.co.uk/recipes/list/vegetarian.

On the other hand my strawberry plants have yielded far lower amounts. I have picked a total of thirteen over the past three weeks and even considering the same amount again eaten by pests [I understand that organic methods of control, i.e. nothing, can be ineffective] this has fallen short of my expectations. There is of course more time for fruiting and a lot more personal gardening experience to acquire so I will remain upbeat for the remainder of my growing season. Besides, the ones that did fruit were juicy, sweet and some of the tastiest I have ever eaten.

Strawberry 1 Strawberry 2

Strawberry 3  Strawberry 4