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 VegiVows”

lead

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.

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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

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