What’s New?

lead seeds

As you may have noticed, the blog has taken on a new look. 

This is a blog for self sufficiency in the modern world, we all have other jobs, busy lives, and I’ve noticed at NotJustPots often the week is filled with lots of little, little & maybe insignificant things, telling small stories. It’s not a time to wax lyrical about living a self sufficient life in the ideal sense of the word, and portraying a dream of living off the land… That can’t always be possible for whatever reasons. We’re still learning about this and still working out what’s possible with what we’ve got.  Hopefully you can work out what you can do about where your food comes from with what you’ve got.

Sounds like an about us page? Well as we said there – if you follow a couple of tech hippies on their journey you would see that we throw convention to the wind sometimes… Guess we just did.

Anyway welcome to ‘the week that’s been’ storyboard at NotJustpots (NJP)

seeds arriving

shitake

Now this is a first for us, growing mushrooms. You can order these self contained kits with full growing instructions online.

The shiitake mushroom spores are seeded on a sawdust log in a plastic tray, so there’s no mess. When we received ours last week, the log had small white and brown bumps on it, so all we needed to do was place them on a north facing window sill in a room that was a minimum of 15 deg C and spray daily to keep the sawdust moist.  In just under a week mushrooms are sprouting and growing daily!

So this is the stage we’re at now with our shiitake mushrooms. In few weeks they should be ready to harvest.

  • Grow all year round
  • Easy to grow!

 

funtime

 

We’ve always let our aeroponic herbs run riot, and it gets hard to clear down the system at the end of a growing cycle. So this year, we’re going to harvest a whole, smaller plant at a time and cover the growing hole with a home designed plug to prevent the formation of algae.

Never designed something with CAD software before, took 3 prototypes to get these plugs right, then printed them on our small 3D printer (a nice and useful thing to have on a smallholding I’ve printed replacement wheel bushes for our old faithful wheelbarrows in the past, but never designed something from scratch!!)

And finally some studio time. Looking forward to using the ‘franken cam’ to capture the plants, ingredients & stories that grow from NJP!  – Have a good week!

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

 

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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!

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

It’s All About Da Herbs!

leadareo_herbFresh herbs  – What’s not to like? Apart from the sticker shock when you pick up one of those miserly bags from the supermarket. But it doesn’t have to be that way as they are so easy to grow from seed, even in small spaces. I read somewhere that 90% of all the_TDF4594 nutrient goodness is lost within 10 minutes of picking. Whether that’s true or not it’s so nice to grab a handful of the stuff to add flavour to the meals we cook.

Some of our herbs we grow in raised beds – Chives, Sage, Rosemary, Oregano, Thyme & Chamomile. Mint grows in pots as you don’t want to let it loose in open ground!

We grow our herbs in an enclosed aero-hydroponic system. The plants sit in small net pots filled with clay pebbles with 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 and recirculated. Periodically the water and nutrients are topped up, to make sure the growing conditions are optimum. Having said that they seem to grow pretty strongly even if neglected a little once they are established.

At the end of a growing season we empty the nutrient rich water into either our raised beds, garden or use to feed the fruit trees. So nothing is wasted.

Our hydro-aerponic tanks hold 40 small pots, so it is quite large but with everything hydroponic is is very scaleable. There are plenty of DIY hacks on the internet and even small scale windowsill options available.

With a system like this most commercial growers heat the water and provide additional artificial lighting to increase production yields. We don’t do this in the polytunnel , but it doesn’t seem to be a problem at the moment even with the off and on sunlight we’ve been having throughout July.

So what do we grow?

  • Basil Genovese
  • Cilantro (aka coriander)
  • Italian Flat Leaf Parsley
  • Dill

We tried growing Russian Tarragon from seed, as French Tarragon is propagated only by cuttings, but frankly we found it had none of the aniseed tones of its European counterpart.

So What to do with loads of herbs?

Here are just a few suggestions…

Nando’s style Macho Peas – Whole peas covered with mashed peas, mint, flat leaf parsley and red chili. Try swapping out the herbs for dill or basil. glass_herbOur favourite was basil and chili combo._BYS0025

Always looking for ways to spice up my veggies, I found a recipe for Bakla (broad bean salad) in “Middle Eastern Cookery” by Arto Der Haroutunian. Usually made with the whole young pods and eaten whole, I adapted the recipe for a quick mid week meal as I didn’t have time to follow the recipe to the letter but made use of the main ingredients, broad beans, mint and the aeroponic herbs  Dill and Parsleybroadbean

Cook the beans in water with a little allspice
Once cooked, drain and sprinkle the fresh herbs over the beans and chopped scallions
Toss in lemon juice and olive oil and serve.

Salad Dressing to accompany seafood and shellfish
Flat leaf parsley
Squeeze of lemon
Hemp or Olive Oil
Spot of Balsamic Vinegar
Whizz that up in a blender or food processor to toss with crisp green lettuce and french bean salad.