Leave the Soil at The Door

leadThere are four types of hydroponics we use at Not Just Pots – we use them for growing different types of things. Currently 2 of our 3 polytunnels are used for hydroponics of one sort or another.

Hydroponics at the consumer level is still a relatively new thing in the UK – so new that it’s fairly likely when you shop for the systems and supplies people will assume you’re growing weed not veg!

So here’s a quick roundup of the systems and what we use them for:

Seedlings for all these systems are propagated in wool cubes until they’ve sprouted and developed a good root structure.

NFT

(Nutrient Film Technique)
This is the kind of hydroponic system most people think of when they think about hydroponics. NFT systems have a constant flow of nutrient solution. The nutrient solution is pumped into the growing tray and flows over the roots of the plants, and then drains back into the reservoir.


There is usually no growing medium used other than air, which saves the expense of replacing the growing medium after every crop. Normally the plant is supported in a small plastic basket with the roots dangling into the nutrient solution.
Most of our lettuce grows in this and in the summer we can harvest one a day.

Aeroponics

The aeroponic system is probably the most high-tech type of hydroponic gardening. Like the NFT system above, the growing medium is primarily air. The roots hang in the air and are misted with nutrient solution. The misting is usually done every few minutes in some systems or continuously in others like ours. Because the roots are exposed to the

air like the NFT system, the roots will dry out rapidly if the misting cycles are interrupted so keeping an eye on these is vital.
We use this for fast growing herbs like Dill, Basil, Cilantro and Parsley.

Water Culture

The water culture system is the simplest of all active hydroponic systems. There are a few different ways to do this

    • The plants slot into foam mats that float directly on the nutrient solution. An air pump supplies air to a series of air stones that bubbles in the nutrientsolution and supplies oxygen to the roots of the plants.
    • The other type is a cascade system which is pumped and the falling water oxygenates itself. Air is incredibly important for roots – so if the roots are in water it must be well oxygenated.IMG_6388 (1)

Most of the time we grow our watercress in the cascade system – it thrives and keeps us in lovely peppery leaves.

On the floating mats this year we grew rocket (arugula), pak choi and spinach. We have grown herbs and leaf lettuce quite well this way too. If you want to build your own Water Culture system, there are details in this article https://notjustpots.wordpress.com/2017/07/20/building-a-watercressinator/

Flood and Drain

The Ebb and Flow system works by temporarily flooding the grow vessel with nutrient solution and then draining the solution back into the reservoir. This action is normally done with a submerged pump that is connected to a timer.
When the timer turns the pump on, nutrient solution is pumped into the grow tray or pots. When the timer shuts the pump off the nutrient solution flows back into the IMG_4511reservoir. The Timer is set to come on several times a day, depending on the size and type of plants, temperature and humidity and the type of growing medium used.
We use large Flood and Drain pots to grow Tomatoes, Tomatillos and Peppers

As for the nutrients we use – we only use them in the NFT and Aeroponics – the rest are plain water. As we come to the end of a growing cycle, we flush the plants with plain water.
As this is a water based growing system, the plants need to be fed nutrients to grow. Each type of plant has specific nutrient requirements, that is why we use several systems, so that we can put plants with similar tastes in nutrients together so that they grow well.

As we come to the end of a growing cycle, we flush the plants with plain water.

NJP_0291

You Say Tomato, I say Tomatillo

leadI love Mexican food. Tomasina Myer’s book was a must have Christmas present in 2010. 

I’d buy these husk covered green fruits at roadside stalls in SoCal along with crates of juicing oranges and globe artichokes. _BYS0176Despite being ubiquitous and relatively cheap to buy I never mastered the art of cooking whole chokes though.

As you can imagine tomatillos were not easily available in the UK and I missed their tart flavour in a Mexican salsa verde served with grilled pork or as a nacho dip.

I found a few online delis that sold tinned ones. I could have used them in salsa, which is usually made with either pureed raw or cooked tomatillos, however I thought the canning process made them a little too soft. But they were an ideal solution for my Chili Verde.

Visiting Borough Market once I stumbled upon one stall selling fresh ones. A rare treat!  I couldn’t resist buying a big bag full. But regular food shopping trips from Wales to London was not on the cards.

 

An Ideal Hydroponic Crop?

After all it’s just a green tomato right?

Tomatillos (Physalis philadephica), like their cousin, the tomato, are  part of the nightshade  (Solanceae) family. Tomatoes are easy to grow, so would they be too? One problem. The local garden centres didn’t sell tomatillo plants. I’d have to grow them from seed. But where to get the seed? Where else? Online!

Last year they grew in the greenhouse. They grew prolifically. They were tall and spindly and needed support to protect the ripening fruit. This year, with their red relatives, they grow hydroponically. _BYS0001They are prolific. They grow tall. Their stalks are thicker, stronger. Support is still needed as I wait for the fruit to ripen.

At least two plants are needed for the papery lanterns to set with fruit. I’m currently growing four. – two Tomatillo Dr Wyches Yellow and two Tomatillo Verde

The extra seedlings I planted are in the traditional tunnel and they’re growing just as they did in the greenhouse last year. 

As the madness of the growing garden subsides, I will have time to develop my recipes. For now here are the building blocks for Chile Verde. Feel free to play!

Pork Shoulder
Chicken Stock
Green & Red Chilis
White Onion
Tomatillos
Parsley (cilantro wasn’t ready yet)
Dried Cumin
Dried Oregano or Freshtomatillo 4

Coop 2.0

leadTime to get a new coop for the chickens. The first one we bought came from the same people that sold us our first 4 chickens. As we’ve become more used to it, some shortcomings became apparent in its design.

We’ve also had a few red mite problems and it boils down to there being just too many places for the buggers to hide. Our version 1.0 coop is single wall shiplap and has just far too many crevasses. The birds weren’t happy. (Here’s what the Wiki has to say about these vampire mites – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dermanyssus_gallinae)

Coop 1.0 also had a couple of design issues

Failings of Coop 1.0

  • Hard to clean – difficult to reach in through the small door
  • Nest box was the same level as the perch – they would sometimes roost in the box – making it quite messy
  • Rain would get in through the ill fitting nest box hatch
  • Too small – we wanted a few more chickens

So a bit of research, a failure to find one that worked for us  – and a redesign was decided on. Let’s call it Coop 2.0

plansFirst things first – what size should it be? We wanted happy chicks!

Living where we do, we have the threat of foxes and birds of prey so total free range was not an option. We lost one of our earlier birds from a wily gosshawk that managed to get through a gap in the roof netting on our first run! What a mess! Feathers everywhere!

Welfare organisations recommend the floor space per medium sized hybrid birds to be a minimum 90 square cm (not including egg box) and the length of the perch to allow 30cm roosting space per medium size chicken. The perch needs to be solid but small enough for the birds to wrap their claws around so make sure the perch has rounded corners.

There should be 1 egg box per 4 birds with a minimum of 2 boxes.

Now for the outside run – some organisations recommend 1 square meter per bird, although 2 square meters is preferable. Basically the bigger the plot you can give them the better. The chicks need enough space so that they can flap their wings.

Materials used

  • Exterior grade plywood 2400mm x 1200mm for the interior walls, floors and ceiling
  • 75mm posts
  • Shiplap for cladding the exterior
  • Metal sheeting for the roof
  • Assorted hinges

Design features of Coop 2.0

  • Flat surfaces with as few crevasses as possible
  • Large doors for ease of access
  • Off the ground so can lean in easily to clean – also the underneath provides the birds shelter from the rain
  • Perch higher than nesting boxes
  • Fox proof the coop and enclosure
  • Bird proof – learning from our past experience & a tale from a neighbouring farmer that he’d seen birds of prey pecking through nylon netting to make a hole – we used chicken wire.
  • Wood chippings in the run to minimise mud and keep the coop clean
  • Lots of tree branches and logs for interest and outside perches

Don’t get me wrong – this didn’t mean the end of red mites – where there are chickens, there will be mites usually prevalent between April & October but I’d like to think we’ve minimised them.IMG_6209

We do a weekly disinfect which is a pain as we have to keep the chickens out of the coop. We use Total Mite Kill liquid to to wash out the entire coop and once dry dust perches and flat surfaces with Total Mite Kill powder. It’s hard to get this stuff into crevices.

As the mild weather continues, you know what we’ll be doing this weekend!

We kept the old coop for occasional use – as a quarantine / nursery coop for introducing new chickens

One essential piece of equipment for us is an automatic door opener / closer  – otherwise  you’d best set alarms for dusk and dawn!

Chickens pretty much look after themselves – and the eggs taste great.IMG_5280

 

Back to School Blues!

leadSeptember in the UK is the start of the new school year, and it was no exception for me! I signed up for a horticultural course.

I’ve been called the ‘Pessimistic Gardener’ as I often feel I’ve killed a few plants and that they will never grow. Nature usually always proves me wrong, but this year’s harvest has been a little hit and miss.

Zucchini (aka courgette) and other types of summer squash usually guarantees a glut and the inevitable discovery of the odd giant plant lurking beneath the leaves. But not this year!

Why?

The weather? – Spring & summer have been better than last year and we had loads then.

Depleted Soil Nutrients? – It’s not because we haven’t done crop rotation as they were planted in new raised beds that we only filled with new compost and topsoil at the beginning of the season.

Lack of water? – We installed automated irrigation this year (more details in a future post on this project).

I’ve been following other foodie blogs from around the UK and they’ve had bumper crops of courgettes! So I’m at a total loss.

The Answer?

Learn a little more about horticulture?

The course is a foundation course in the basics of horticulture, but has modules covering:

  • outdoor food production,
  • protected cultivation (greenhouses and polytunnels),
  • plant nutrition and health problems.

I thought if I’m really serious in growing all our vegetables then I might need all the help I can get.

Last week we looked at plant families and plant identification.

One family in particular is The “Mints” or Lamiacea. From the name you could determine that peppermint and spearmint and English mint are part of this family.

I was totally surprised to learn that Lavender (Lavandula) Sage, and Rosemary (Rosmarinus) are all part of the same family!

They are characterised by having 4 sided stems, something I had never noticed until I picked a few sprigs for these photographs! It’s now so obvious!

They also have whorled leaves, in that the leaves radiate around a single point. The leaves when rubbed or crushed are scented.

So…If they are related in the plant kingdom – what about flavour pairings in cooking?

Time to consult the Flavour Thesaurus and start some culinary experiments.thesarus

The Colours of My Garden

kodakThis week has kept us both busy at The Other Jobs (TOJ) and I’ve spent a good deal of time printing.

September has arrived and the kitchen garden is starting to look a little dishevelled. There are a few stragglers left to harvest and we continue to pick tomatoes, herbs and lettuce from the hydroponic tunnel.

The TOJ in question is running my small fine art printing company. It’s interesting work that requires accurate colour reproduction and to do this you need the help from some tools of the trade, like a spectrophotometer / colorimeter  – a device, that simply put, measures colour values and assigns it a numerical value depending upon the colour space you are using. I work with the colour space Red  Green  Blue

So for example white would have the following values:
R 255
G 255
B 255
And black would be
R 0
G 0
B 0

I mainly use the spectrophotometer to calibrate my camera, monitors & printers so that they speak the same colour language to make sure I get consistent colour reproduction from image capture of the original painting to the final print. However my current device also allows me to read spot colours and produce customised colour palettes.

Whilst on a tea break I read an article by Joshua Johnson at DesignShack.net about the colour pallets of 10 famous paintings, including Van Gough’s Starry Starry Night – I just love that painting!

I was inspired! What fun and a colour geek thing to do  – use our fruit and veg  to make my own colour palette.

So here’s the start of my garden colour range.

colour pallet

* Mucho Miel is an Italian Salad Tomato

Check out the article if you’re interested, he talks about Dali, De Vincci and Norman Rockwell among others

https://designshack.net/articles/inspiration/10-free-color-palettes-from-10-famous-paintings/

Caramel Carrots

headerIn an earlier post we talked about the resurgence of the pressure cooker. If like us you decided to invest in one of these kitchen bad boys, then you need to make the most of it. It’s not just about soups and stews.

I must be honest, I need inspiration when it comes to creating vegetable dishes. I grew up with either boiled, baked, steamed and mashed vegetables served as a side to the main event.  That’s not a problem if dinner is a good steak with chips and peas or even pizza and a crisp green salad!

However with a garden full of fresh vegetables I need to find ways of making vegetables more appealing and giving them the limelight.

Whilst researching the other article I came across this YouTube clip about caramelised carrot soup https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nT_EFG1oiL8

Carrots are in season in the garden so we tried this out – only as far as cooking the carrots, but didn’t see the recipe through to the soup stage.

Our Recipe In Short

500g Carrots Washed and Chopped in 5cm / 2” pieces
113g Unsalted Butter Cut up into chunks
2.5g Bicarbonate of Soda (aka Baking Soda)
30g Water

  1. Place butter into the pressure cooker and then add the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Seal and bring temperature to 1 bar (15psi) and cook for 20 minutes.
  3. Time the cooking from when the correct pressure is reached.
  4. We use a stove top pressure cooker with side grips so we shook the pan gently a few times to stop the carrots from sticking.
  5. Once cooked reduce the pressure by running the rim under tepid water. Please refer to the manufacturers’ Safety Guidelines for depressurising a pressure cooker

The Result

Soft (but not soggy) rich naturally sweet caramelised carrots

The Reason

Cooking in a pressure cooker produces a Maillard Reaction (commonly known as browning)

The Bicarbonate of Soda produces an alkaline environment which aids caramelisation at lower temperatures adding to the flavour and helps the carrots caramelise all the way through and not just on the surface.

Looks like we can use this for other root veg and hard crops such as squash. Can’t wait for the winter squash harvest!

Here’s a link to the full soup recipe.
http://modernistcuisine.com/recipes/at-home-caramelized-carrot-soup/

A handy and comprehensive review of pressure cookers on the market can be found here. http://wonderstreet.com/reviews/the-best-pressure-cookers
We use the Kuhn Rikon Duromatic with side grips (not listed), which we’ve had no problems with so far.

Please note we are not affiliated or endorsed by any of these companies or publications. All opinions and comments are our own._NJP0936

Store Cupboard Staples from Scratch

storecupboardThought we’d start putting some store cupboard recipes up – we’ll try to do this once a month. We got a Weck home canner a couple of months ago after agonising about the safe and scary ways to preserve things long term. The Weck system seemed the best to us from a food safety point of view and ended the inevitable cracked Kilner jars when boiling them on the stove top. Anyway it allowed us to start changing our store cupboard from shop bought condiments / sauces and other preserves to things we make ourselves. We’ll do Brown Sauce this month and coming up will be Tomato Ketchup, Mango Chutney, Burger Relish and Jam plus whatever else we can think of.

Some of the recipes we make are a way of using up the harvest from the garden, and a way of preserving food for later in the season. Others may be just nice stuff – treats, and creating our own version of condiments to try and limit our consumption of artificial preservatives, high levels of sugar and salt. We’ll try to use things from the garden seasonally though this can be difficult.

brown sauceflatr

So anyway this is Brown Sauce month! A spicy condiment almost always tomato based – famous brands such as  HP Sauce (UK / Ireland / Australia / New Zealand / Canada), A1 Steak Sauce (USA). In the UK there is also Tiptree Brown sauce but we prefer HP original’s spicier taste.

The British plum season starts late August to early October & we have 3 Brown Turkey Fig trees growing in pots bursting with fruit, so this is my take on a spicy, yet slightly fruity brown sauce.

NJP’s Brown Sauce Recipe_NJP1236

453g British Plums stones removed
283g Fresh Figs chopped roughly
185g Onion chopped roughly
65g Raisins
13g Fresh Garlic
13g Fresh Ginger
18g Fresh Red Chili Peppers deseeded

_NJP1265SPICES
1/4 tbsp Chili Powder
1/4 tbsp Turmeric
1/4 tsp Allspice Berries
A couple of Mace Blades
2 tsp Tamarind Paste

PRESERVING AGENTS
14g Salt *
187ml Cider Vinegar
70g Dark Brown Muscovado Sugar *
1 tsp Black Treacle *

  1. Place all the ingredients apart from the sugar into a nonreactive pan – don’t use copper!
  2. Bring to the boil and then place onto a low heat and simmer until the fruit is soft and pulpy.
  3. Blitz the contents of the pan in a blender / food processor
  4. At this point either return the sauce to the pan or you can use the extra step of using a food mill to extract liquid from the pulp, depending on whether you want a clearer sauce without bits.
  5. Add the sugar to the blended sauce and simmer until the desired consistency is reached *
  6. Place into sterilised jars and follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for your canning method.
  7. If not using a preserving bath, use the sauce within 2 weeks and  always keep refrigerated.

* If you want a long shelf life for your preserves you need to use preserving agents traditionally these are salt, sugar & vinegars.

  • So use unrefined cane sugar wherever possible.
  • Use black treacle where molasses is not available. I used this as a colouring for the sauce to give a rich brown colour instead of a food colouring. (I plan on looking at making natural food colourings soon, so hopefully I can drop this items from the next batch of brown sauce).
  • To check the consistency I put a sample of sauce on a cold saucer and placed it into the fridge to cool. When cool the sauce behaves differently. Desired thickness is a personal choice, but we like our brown sauce gloopy!