The week that’s been – Cold!

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Heavy frosts have continued, so with a hot cup of coffee in hand, and a kettle of hot water in the other it’s off to the chicken pen to make sure they have free flowing water.

cider vinergar

Planting in the polytunnel has started. I start my broad beans off in pots, so that the field mice don’e eat them all!

broadbean

An ethical alternative to avocado? Less air-miles? And to be honest, it’s hard to find a decent avocado in a UK supermarket.

guacamole recipe

guagamole

The Big Clean Up

 

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

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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.

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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.
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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!

Store Cupboard Essentials – A New Direction…

lead2I know we’ve only done one of these, but I’ve been thinking…

The idea behind this feature, is to reclaim these overly processed food items and make them more natural, as they once were, when family recipes were passed down from mother to child. This probably doesn’t happen a lot these days as it is so much easier just to pick these items up at the store.

I never got a copy of my mother’s chutney recipe and when I wanted to recreate it last year, searching the web turned up numerous recipes, all with variations and interesting takes on new ingredient combinations. All I wanted was a simple old English chutney recipe, but I didn’t know where to start!

_NJP0889What’s a traditional English green tomato chutney?

Then I came across a book by Elizabeth David, widely considered to be one of Britain’s greatest food writers, called Spices, Salt & Aromatics in the English Kitchen, in which she states that historically our country has shown a “preoccupation with the spices and the scents, the fruit, the flavourings, the sauces and condiments of the orient, near and far.”

Elizabeth David 1970

During the period of the British East India Company the housewives of the time were very interested in reproducing the chutneys brought back from India, but with using ingredients they could buy at home.

This was it! My starting point…

Mild Green Tomato Chutney (recipe courtesy of Elizabeth David)
907g Green Tomatoes
907g Cooking Apples
226g Onions
680g Brown Sugar
453g Stoneless Raisins / Sultanas
2 tsp Ground Ginger
2 tsp Ground Allspice
2 tsp Crushed Black Peppercorns
2 Garlic Cloves
2 tbs Salt
852ml White Wine Vinegar

Peel and slice the onions and apples and chop the tomatoes.
Place those ingredients into a non-reactive saucepan along with all the other dry ingredients and the crushed garlic.
David then goes on to say to “moisten with a little of the vinegar
Cook gently for about 1 hour adding the vinegar as the chutney thickens.
When it reaches a jam like consistency the chutney is ready to bottle(follow your canning manufacturer’s guidelines).

_BYS0025

The result?

  • Using all the vinegar meant cooking for longer than 1 hour to reach the right consistency making the ingredients too soft.
  • A little too sweet and salty
  • Ratio of sultanas to apple / tomato combo too high?
  • General flavour was good, as I was hoping for a “Branston Pickle” type of chutney

Next steps…

From this solid foundation I can now, next season work on developing my own recipe that I can pass on to others…

If you’ve made this – what were your thoughts?

green tomato chutney

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.

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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