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Last Monday (11 August) I re-examined my out-of-date tomato plants  I planted around two and a half months ago.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

More Local Press

Last Thursday (3rd July) I found my photograph in two local newspapers, the Braintree and Witham Times and the Essex Chronicle. The associated articles related to my local Morrisons M Local store opening in Witham on Friday 27th June at 09:00. I have been employed by Wm Morrison Supermarkets PLC since April of this year and was fortunate enough to be working when the photographers visited.

So I bought a copy of both newspapers on the day and found myself on page 6 of the Braintree and Witham Times (www.braintreeandwithamtimes.co.uk/news/11307440.Supermarket_giant_opens_convenience_store_in_former_pub/) and page 15 of the Essex Chronicle (the Braintree and Witham edition at http://www.essexchronicle.co.uk/Morrisons-M-Local-opens-business-Jack-Jenny-site/story-21318124-detail/story.html). Surprisingly, since I have begun this blog almost fourteen months ago I have appeared in my local newspapers a total of seven times; including for my can collecting project, my first marathon, my WasteBusters volunteering and my amateur dramatics. I am humbled for these opportunities and look forward to contribute more to my local community.

Amateur Dramatics: Show 2 Report

It has been over two weeks since the conclusion of my first adult acting theatre production, which I am so pleased went well. As is customary with Witham Dramatic Club we underwent a full week of evening dress rehearsals from Monday 15th June until the show nights on Thursday 19th, Friday 20th and Saturday 21st. On Tuesday photographs were taken whilst we performed and on Wednesday I made enough blunders to get all my nerves out of my system [and get used to my new hair cut]. There are more photographs of The Anastasia File on at www.withamdramatic.co.uk/production.html and on the Witham Dramatic Club Photos page on Facebook.

 Doctor 2 Doctor Dentist Reporter Posh Doctor

My performances on Thursday and Friday were near perfect [I only missed a few lines, which were not critical anyway] with enjoyable director’s drinks and an Indian curry meal afterwards respectively. However, on the last night I unfortunately required one line prompt near the start of my performance [the one night people I knew came to watch; Kristina's parents and six of my work colleagues]. Still I did not let it faze me, and was instead reminded by a fellow actor that by and large audience members pay to watch the theatre for enjoyment and not to criticise. Despite this minor error on my part [overall I gained a great deal of experience and felt I achieved a lot] audience feedback was very positive, as was The Braintree and Witham Times review (printed on page 41 of the Thursday July 3rd edition). Plus the after show ‘picnic party’ was very tasty and Sunday’s set down only took the morning to complete. 

I also gained a great many items of memorabilia including a ticket end, a programme with a profile of me inside, posters from the set and gifts from the cast and crew such as a rose and an array of cards [Kristina and I too made homemade cards for them all, using an image of Anastasia - in the animated 1997 film - and individual quotes inside from the script].

 Ticket Stub Programme Programme Profile Posters Rose Cards Homemade Card

As a result of enjoying this production, which saw around 150 people attend across the three nights, I decided to commit to the next production. This is entitled Oh, What a Lovely War! (1965) written by Joan Littlewood and Theatre Workshop, which will be shown for four nights starting 19th and ending 22nd November [I have already read the anti-war play and am impressed with the satirical and fluid nature of both the dialogue and scenes]. So I attended the second of three open auditions on Tuesday 1st July at 20:00 in the Witham Public Hall Committee Rooms and despite my rough attempts at foreign accents and group singing I managed to obtain yet another acting role. I thankfully now have some time to improve my voice and juggling abilities before rehearsals begin in mid August to early September. 

Finally I choose to get even more involved in my local dramatic club by putting myself forward for one of the three seats on the Play Selection Committee at the club’s AGM, held on Monday 30th June [same place and time]. I was also lucky enough to gain this role, which primarily reads, suggests and discusses future plays to be produced by the club. I have already put forward the play Before the Party (1949) by a personally inspiring playwright Rodney Ackland and look forward to offering more over the coming year [not least because I read and write plays in my spare time anyway].