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

Store Cupboard Staples from Scratch

storecupboardThought we’d start putting some store cupboard recipes up – we’ll try to do this once a month. We got a Weck home canner a couple of months ago after agonising about the safe and scary ways to preserve things long term. The Weck system seemed the best to us from a food safety point of view and ended the inevitable cracked Kilner jars when boiling them on the stove top. Anyway it allowed us to start changing our store cupboard from shop bought condiments / sauces and other preserves to things we make ourselves. We’ll do Brown Sauce this month and coming up will be Tomato Ketchup, Mango Chutney, Burger Relish and Jam plus whatever else we can think of.

Some of the recipes we make are a way of using up the harvest from the garden, and a way of preserving food for later in the season. Others may be just nice stuff – treats, and creating our own version of condiments to try and limit our consumption of artificial preservatives, high levels of sugar and salt. We’ll try to use things from the garden seasonally though this can be difficult.

brown sauceflatr

So anyway this is Brown Sauce month! A spicy condiment almost always tomato based – famous brands such as  HP Sauce (UK / Ireland / Australia / New Zealand / Canada), A1 Steak Sauce (USA). In the UK there is also Tiptree Brown sauce but we prefer HP original’s spicier taste.

The British plum season starts late August to early October & we have 3 Brown Turkey Fig trees growing in pots bursting with fruit, so this is my take on a spicy, yet slightly fruity brown sauce.

NJP’s Brown Sauce Recipe_NJP1236

453g British Plums stones removed
283g Fresh Figs chopped roughly
185g Onion chopped roughly
65g Raisins
13g Fresh Garlic
13g Fresh Ginger
18g Fresh Red Chili Peppers deseeded

_NJP1265SPICES
1/4 tbsp Chili Powder
1/4 tbsp Turmeric
1/4 tsp Allspice Berries
A couple of Mace Blades
2 tsp Tamarind Paste

PRESERVING AGENTS
14g Salt *
187ml Cider Vinegar
70g Dark Brown Muscovado Sugar *
1 tsp Black Treacle *

  1. Place all the ingredients apart from the sugar into a nonreactive pan – don’t use copper!
  2. Bring to the boil and then place onto a low heat and simmer until the fruit is soft and pulpy.
  3. Blitz the contents of the pan in a blender / food processor
  4. At this point either return the sauce to the pan or you can use the extra step of using a food mill to extract liquid from the pulp, depending on whether you want a clearer sauce without bits.
  5. Add the sugar to the blended sauce and simmer until the desired consistency is reached *
  6. Place into sterilised jars and follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for your canning method.
  7. If not using a preserving bath, use the sauce within 2 weeks and  always keep refrigerated.

* If you want a long shelf life for your preserves you need to use preserving agents traditionally these are salt, sugar & vinegars.

  • So use unrefined cane sugar wherever possible.
  • Use black treacle where molasses is not available. I used this as a colouring for the sauce to give a rich brown colour instead of a food colouring. (I plan on looking at making natural food colourings soon, so hopefully I can drop this items from the next batch of brown sauce).
  • To check the consistency I put a sample of sauce on a cold saucer and placed it into the fridge to cool. When cool the sauce behaves differently. Desired thickness is a personal choice, but we like our brown sauce gloopy!

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.

Any Night can be Pizza Night

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Homemade pizza is one of our favourite foods. So simple and so much fun!

There are two pizza books on my kitchen shelf, that I would not be without. The first is Pizza Pilgrims by James & Thom Elliot. A couple of guys who travelled through Italy in a 3-Wheeler Van learning to cook real Neapolitan pizzas, and then came back to make great simple authentic pizzas in London. The second is American Pie by Peter Reinhart also the author of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.

American Pie contains my favourite go to dough recipe, so the book is getting rather dog-eared now.IMG_6889 I usually make a big batch at a time as it freezes well. It’s also a very forgiving recipe, the dough doesn’t seem to mind being mixed by hand, planetary mixer or spiral mixer. It makes a really tasty thin, crisp base even if you cook your pizza in a normal oven.

I tend to omit or reduce the amount of salt and sugar used in recipes (just our preference), so for my pizza dough I changed the quantities used. I also adapted the recipe to work with dried active yeast (readily available in UK supermarkets), instead of instant yeast. If using instant yeast just add it to the dry ingredients and mix.

NEO – NEAPOLITAN PIZZA DOUGHIMG_6883

10 cups 00 flour
3 teaspoon salt
Yeast  *see below
4 tablespoons olive oil
500ml room temperature water

DRIED ACTIVE YEAST PREPARATION

2/3rd tsp sugar
100ml water (taken from the 500ml)
2 tsp yeast
Dissolve the sugar in the water.
Mix in the yeast and leave in a warm place for 15 minutes.
This is now ready to use with the other ingredients.

The Pizza Pilgrims insist the best pizza sauce is made from uncooked San Marzano tomatoes that have been squished to a light pulp and sprinkled with salt. Getting my hands on those in my little Welsh Valley is nigh on impossible – or is it?…IMG_8065

I managed to locate a pack of seeds and I’ve a handful of plants growing in the greenhouse and polytunnel! Can’t wait for them to ripen! If you can’t buy it – grow it!
At the moment I use Italian whole plum tomatoes and carefully remove them from the juice and mash the fruit.

Some of best garlic bread is the simplest to make when you’re using a wood fired oven.

Take a piece of pizza dough.
Roll it out.
Dot with garlic, butter (or olive oil) and maybe a sprinkling of parmesan and poppy seeds.

”Pizza is like sex. Even when it’s bad it’s good”
Mel Brooks