Experiments Afoot

basil seedlings

The winter clean up continues as our thoughts turn to seeds.

lightexperiment

Which lighting?

LED 2 spectrum (red & blue) v Fluorescent

We’ve used fluorescent lights in the past, as they were easier to source in this country, but are quite expensive to run. 

Research shows that white light is not particularly the correct wavelength for plant growth. 

LED’s are cheaper to run but harder to find here. There are some really expensive ones, but we found some ‘cheaper’ imports.

Germination Results

Under Fluorescent – both basil and cilantro (coriander) sprouted

  • Basil leaves were larger and the plants seemed a little taller, the roots were clearly visible through the grow cube
  • Cilantro – again leaves and roots larger, but stems were straggly and pale
  • Leaves larger as seedlings were seeking out enough light to grow

Under LEDs – red / blue spectrum

  • Leaves on both plants were smaller but were darker green (richer in chlorophyl)
  • The cilantro stalks were stronger, a darker green and a little shorter
  • Failed germination at the corners of the seed tray – due to lack of light coverage or perhaps due to the quality of the LED lights. We’d like to do further experiments, on a small scale, of the far red & far blue spectrum, but germination season is almost here, so we’ll go with these panels this season.

We planted out the strongest looking seedlings into pots of earth and placed them on window sills through out the house.

Our first official full set of herbs and salad leaves are now in the propagator. We hope to have them growing on in the aeroponic tanks in a couple of weeks.

basil

The Big Clean Up

 

lead

January on a smallholding?  Not much going on?…Busier than you might think!

landscape-storyboard-test

At the end of each growing season we cover the kitchen garden with heavy duty, reusable weedstop to kill all left over plant life to mulch into the soil the next year. Can be used on raised beds too. No need to worry about weeding throughout the winter.

tools-lie-idle-sb

winter-washed-away

Ways to clean a polytunnel

  • Chemical Sprays – haven’t found any that really work
  • Flossing – large wet sheet with tennis balls tied to the corners and string. Throw sheet over the top and pull from side to side.
  • NotJustPots’ Quick & Easy Way – hosepipe & and extendable window washing pole with 2 non-abrasive kitchen sponge pads attached to the end with cable ties. Dampen the cover inside and out, scrub away the dirt and grime with the pads and then rinse down with the hosepipe.

Pros & Cons

  • Flossing needs 2 people, we didn’t find it very easy to do, but it will definitely reach the apex on the outside of the tunnel. It won’t work on the inside.
  • NotJustPots’ method – Easy for 1 person to do, but there’s the possibility of not reaching the apex outside. Can be used on the inside too.

garlic

garlic art

“The VegiVows”

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As an avid Margaret Atwood fan I devour her novels almost as soon as I can get my grubby gardener hands on them. But what with the move to, and all the renovations at the small holding I’ve not found the time to read.

With all the major DIY projects finally behind us this year, the main growing season over and the dismal, Fifty Shades of Kodak Grey skies, hampering any robot building efforts, I finally picked up Atwood’s The Year of The Flood. An aptly titled book, since it hasn’t stopped raining?! 

In the book we’re introduced to the “Gardeners” a vegetarian eco group who take Vegivows and cultivate secret roof top gardens to grow their own food in preparation for the coming of the waterless flood that will destroy civilisation. 

Even though Atwood’s “Gardeners” were not great fans of technology, I feel hydroponic technology is a great way to produce your own food when space is limited or you do not have access to a soil garden or allotment.  You can even do it on a window sill!

How Does My Garden Grow?

Simply put, plants grow in oxygenated water containing dissolved nutrients

The plants sit in small net pots filled with clay pebbles pebbleswith their roots growing in the air. A water pump then pumps nutrient rich water through a sprinkler system that sprays the roots. Surplus water drains back into the tank to recirculate. 

Last year we grew our winter herbs and salad leaves in an enclosed aero-hydroponic system, with artificial light and heated water.
crop

However this year, we’re trying to grow them in an unheated polytunnel with just natural daylight.
I’m not sure how well this will go, as they are predicting a harsh winter because of the possibility of La Nina weather front.

On the book tour for the The Year of The Flood, Atwood said they would follow what she called the “Vegivows” – a list of things to make the tour as green as possible. One element of these vows was to eat locally produced and if possible organic food. 

I guess the reason for NotJustPots is to abide by our own set of  “VegiVows.”

  • Grow as much of our food as possible.

  • Make everything from scratch.

  • And what we can’t – Know it’s provenance. Be it sourced locally or from small independent suppliers that grow or raise their products naturally.

Here’s hoping for some dry weather, so we can crack on with the robot build!

Robot Overlords – Building a Robot to Grow our Food

leadWe’re properly excited at NotJustPots and a little concerned about our level of engineering practicality because this week the robot gardener arrived. Well not actually a robot but an automated gardening system called Farmbot.

We first came across Farmbot in 2016 as a Kickstarter campaign. Farmbot is a small scale, open source DIY agricultural robot, and when I say small scale it really is. The company is aiming the product at the home gardener. All you need is a raised bed!IMG_8761
It plants seeds, waters and weeds so you don’t have to! It’s not going to solve the worlds food issues but it’s great to learn more about food, engineering and how they interact.

It’s promoted as the next eco-friendly way to grow your own food, as it is based on precision planting and watering. Nothing is wasted and is suitable for even the busiest of households – just watch your garden grow as you control the system online. It’s a little out there – we’re early adopters and that’s a gamble that’s not always worked out.

Anyway from what we read it sounded like it might be a big helping hand, so we took a punt and are trying out an experiment.

This week we took delivery of version 1.3, so we cleared one bed located closest to the house, as it’s already got a water supply next to it and we’ve started to assemble it.IMG_8759

It comes in 2 packages and comes flat packed so there is some assembly required. Not a lot of big heavy parts, but quite a few, actually lots of small parts, including a set of tools. Yay! We finally have a his and her set of precision hex drivers!!! How tech hippy is that!

I’m the chief Ikea furniture putter together at NotJustPots, and the lengthy online assembly instructions are a little daunting.

So over the next coming weeks, we will let you know what we learn and keep you updated on our progress.

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

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

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

 

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/