What’s New?

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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!

“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!

Po’Butty… A Welsh Twist on a Classic!

new leadFirst frosty mornings of the year have arrived and ’tis the season for comfort food – A hot pulled meat sandwich smothered in a sweet, sticky, slightly spicy sauce.

What’s in a name?

Po’ Boy – A traditional hot sandwich from Louisiana of either fried seafood or shredded meat in a sloppy sauce served on a long crusty bread roll.

Butty – A slang word for a sandwich in parts of the UK, again the contents are hot and they are placed between 2 slices of bread. Most commonly a chip butty (i.e French fries / frites) or bacon butty.
It is also a South Wales Valley phrase for a friend or mate!

The origin of the Po’Boy started “In 1922, brothers Bennie and Clovis Martin quit their jobs as New Orleans streetcar conductors and opened a coffee shop in the city’s historic French Market ….”
when in 1929 there was a major strike and the community came out in support of the strikers and “as former streetcar conductors, the brothers also lent their support, announcing that they would feed any hungry striker who could not afford to pay.”

(cited from a post by Susan Waggoner August 2015 on www.ForknPlate.com)

The South Wales Valleys are tight-knit communities with an industrial heritage that have _NJP1774also seen their fair share of strikes, so the word butty seemed a good one to use to describe this dish.

The meat traditionally used in a Po’ boy is usually a tough cut of beef slow cooked until it falls off the bone and is easily shredded. Wales is renowned for it’s lamb, but the delicate flavour of this meat, I didn’t think would work well in a Po’ Boy type sandwich, so I decided on Mutton – meat from a 3 year old sheep that is known to be a lot tougher.

And so the Mutton Po’ Butty with a Cherry & Fig BBQ Saucewas born.

I cooked the mutton in a sous vide for 3 days at 60 degrees centigrade (140 Fahrenheit).

_NJP1782Building Blocks for the BBQ Sauce

Fresh Cherry Juice
Fresh Fig Juice
Port
Sprig of Rosemary
Dark Muscovado Sugar
White Vinegar
A Dash of Welsh Wildflower Honey
NJP (NotJustPots) Tomato Ketchup**
Chilli Powder to taste.

Take the first 4 ingredients and simmer until reduced by about half. In another pan simmer the remaining ingredients until reduced by the same amount.
Combine both together.
I added a final step of simmering to thicken, as I wanted quite a thick BBQ sauce to toss the mutton in.
Serve on a homemade brioche bun.

BTW we live close to a really good authentic smoke house called The Hang Fire Southern Kitchen in Barry, South Wales, where the provenance of their food is really important to them. Check out their story here  https://hangfiresmokehouse.com/about-us/ – and if you ever get a chance to visit they make an awesome Shrimp Po’Boy!

*BBQ sauce adapted from http://www.finecooking.com/recipe/smoked-lamb-ribs-with-rosemary-and-fig-barbecue-sauce

**Recipe to follow in Store Cupboard Essentials

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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

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

Raising The Beds

beds_leadOur ground was pretty poor in parts, a shallow covering of soil over heavy clay. Anything we planted would be fighting this so we decided on raised beds. They needed to be fairly large (they can scale to fit the space available) and I wanted them to last so it meant a trip to the local timber supplier. I found some treated 4.8m x 200mm x 45mm lengths which looked like they’d do the job. Using these 3 high, with beds 4.8m x 1.2m was the plan. I’d need some square posts for the corners and it became apparent I’d need some central support and bracing in the middle.

IMG_6335

So each bed used:

  • 7.5 x boards
  • 4.8m of 75 x 75 posts (60cm lengths in each corner and in the centre and one 1.2 to brace between the centres)
  • A lot of exterior screws
  • Weedstop in the bottom

Once finished I needed to work out roughly how much compost / topsoil to put in each bed. I wasn’t going to fill them to the very top.

Soil Calculation:
4.8m x 1.2m x 0.5m = 2.88 cubic metres.
Multiply this by 1000 gives 2880 litres of soil or compost per bed

Wow! We were going to have to buy that in bulk!
We built 3 in a polytunnel initially, _TDF4541then 2 smaller ones for herbs like sage and rosemary. Then came another 3… then came another 8… So most of our food is grown in these now. This year we’ve got:

  • Carrots
  • Kale
  • Leeks
  • Broad Beans
  • Jerusalem Artichoke (aka Sun Chokes)
  • Summer & Winter Squash including pumpkin and patty pan
  • Beetroot
  • Sweetcorn
  • Kohl Rabi
  • Horseradish
  • Rhubarb
  • Chard
  • Raddish
  • Tomatoes
  • Chamomile
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Chives
  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Broccoli Raab
  • French Beans
  • Cucumbers and pickling cucumbers
  • Strawberries

On the one bit of good ground we’ve mainly laid that with legumes – peas, mangetout, runner and other climbing beans, sweetcorn and sunflowers. These can be grown in beds also.

Benefits of Raised Beds

  • Higher Yield – plants can be grown closer together than in the open ground
  • Minimises Weeds
  • Companion Planting of crops and flowers to minimise pests
  • Extended Growing Season – as soil temperature will be higher than open ground
  • Scaleable & Easily Adapted to suit your needs

IMG_3832

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.