Godney Aquaponics

Godney Aquaponics
In the village of Godney, with the beautiful back drop of the Glastonbury Tor, Melv and Sal are embarking on a new venture. Fed up with the poor quality of veg in the shops, they have the ambition to set up an aquaponics system to provide fresh vegetables and salad crops for the village, and with a little help from their hens a supply of fresh free range eggs too.

What is Aquaponics??

What is Aquaponics??
Aquaponics is a sustainable method of producing quality food with minimal external inputs. It is a system that combines conventional aquaculture (e.g. fish in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment. Water from the aquaculture system is fed to the hydroponic system where the by-products are broken down and are utilised by the plants as nutrients, and the water is then re-circulated back to the aquaculture system.

Tuesday 27 August 2019

Cool cucumbers

A little like courgettes, cucumbers are well known for the traditional long green variety, which for many people have a skin which are hard to digest and cause them to 'repeat'  when eaten. However as with the courgette there loads of different varieties, some of which we are growing this year - and we have found that some are a little tastier than others.
First has to be the Mini Munch, a well known small, fleshy, crisp 'snack box' sized cucumber which has great flavour with no bitter after taste. Great for pickling, eating with dips or as an salad accompaniment straight off the plant.

A little more exotic is the Crystal Lemon, which has a delightful, rounded, lemon-coloured fruits. They have a white flesh and are excellent for either slicing or pickling and are reputed to be more digestible than other types, they are sweet and fresh.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the White Wonder which is reported to be a 'gorgeous little crunchy white cucumber  which forms ivory white, 15-20cm long, fat, oval fruits, with a citrusy-sweet flavour'. 

It is claimed to be 'a brilliant slicer and adds interest to any salad dish or purely to snack on', but that is not what we found, it was extremely bitter with a thick skin and we in fact we removed the plants and replaced them with crystal lemons and carosellos.

Carosello is an exciting, hard to find cucumber from southern Italy, it has curious very thin  fuzzy skin, and has a sweet, mild, flavour resembling a melon. Perfect in salads and a great accompaniment for pasta dishes, and is reported to be easier to digest than ordinary cucumbers, which we agree with, it is definitely one we will grow in the future

The only slight draw back of the carosello is the amount of seeds that it contains, but the surrounding flesh makes up for it.

However the cucumber star of the year and our favourite has to be Salt and Pepper, which is a variety which is small, squat, and cylindrical. Their outer skin is thin, white and delicately nobbly which turns a pale yellow; growing darker the longer the cucumber is left on the vine. 

The inner flesh is pale green with a few translucent seeds. These delightful little cucumbers have a crisp texture and a mild, pleasant flavour. They are best suited for eating fresh and pickling. They can be sliced or chopped and used in salads, cold pasta dishes or as a garnish. They also make fantastic pickled gherkins, when they take on spicy flavours and maintain their crunch, so a win, win all-round.

Thursday 22 August 2019

Tomato time

I had forgotten just how brilliant this time of year is for tomatoes...

And the range and variety we are growing this year just seem to get better and better the more the sun shines

when ripe, add a touch of red basil known as Red Rubin and my word they just zing in your mouth. A popular Sheppey Inn starter and an accompaniment to their main sea bass dish  they are popular with local business and people alike.

They are basically little crackers...

And in the case of this one a little Fire Cracker!!

Wednesday 21 August 2019

Growing up with vegetables

The new family are doing well, although we have lost one of the chicks, the other 5 are growing fast. Now 2 weeks old they are becoming increasingly confident and a little more independent, and under the supervision of their mum they are also investigating new feeding opportunities, and being brought up in an horticultural business there is no shortage of these!!

Salad leaves are very popular with the adult birds and sparse tray of young leaves also went down well with the little ones.

The soft centres of the excess cucumbers and courgettes are currently proving most popular, the seeds are just the right size and the flesh soft and full of nutrition.

Tuck in my little friend there are plenty more to come and lots of new and tasty treats to follow...

Sunday 18 August 2019

The new family are doing well

Carpet continues to be the attentive mother and as a result the new brood are doing well and growing significantly each day.

Mum encourages the youngsters to take the small pieces of corn from the main feeder and in doing so the littluns show off their new wing feathers. Heavily patterned and becoming quite defined we watch and wait to see how their plumage develops.

The weather has been a little inclement and Carpet has made sure that the chicks are not exposed to too much, despite their increase in size, she encourages them to stay underneath her.

However that said, although they have grown, when Melv gathers one up in his hands it makes you realise, they are still really tiny...

and very, very cute!!

Saturday 17 August 2019

How small would they be??

The days ticked by and we admired Carpet for her dedication as she brooded the eggs for over 23 hours each day, taking only the shortest of breaks to eat and drink.

As such there were limited opportunities to observe the eggs and so every so often we would delve underneath her feathers to check that they hadn't gone addled or to see if there were signs of pipping.

As the days went by with no changes apparent, we started to think that the eggs were not viable after all, but that said we couldn't help but allow ourselves to wonder that if one did hatch how small the chick would actually be. When compared to a chicken egg that of a bantam is tiny.

It was hard to imagine how small these youngsters were going to be and we wondered were we going to be privileged to get to see one? 

Day 21 arrived, and whilst sowing my salad trays in the potting shed, I was in the right place at the right time to see Carpet leave her nest and stretch her wings - so I took the opportunity to take a peep at the eggs.

To my amazement there was a tiny hole forming in the top of one of the eggs - wow, I carefully lifted it up and put it to my ear, to hear a soft pipping noise. I couldn't believe it I was holding an egg that was about to hatch - fantastic. This tiny little egg was about to break open and bring a new life into the world - Melv - the chicks are on their way!

We watched eagerly throughout the day, however it wasn't until the next day that we got our first glimpse, with an eggshell by Carpet's side a chick appeared from under her feathers, so we knew she had hatched at least one youngster.

She sat tight for the next 2 days and then she finally made a move and left the nest, to reveal that 6 of the 7 eggs had hatched, we were yet to see them as she carefully kept them underneath her.

Finally on day 3 we got our first sight of 3 of the chicks - little bundles of energetic fluff. Carpet was very attentive and kept them close to her, very vulnerable to cold and wet at this age she was taking no risks.

Then on day 4 our patience was rewarded and all 6 chicks appeared, beautifully marked, and so cute they gathered round their mum waiting for her to direct them to food.

For the first 6 days we confined the new family to the coup, to keep them safe and offer some protection, whilst giving them freedom to find their feet. However, on day 6 Carpet was desperate to leave the confines of the coup and take her little brood out in the wider pen. We were a little unsure, as these tiny little balls of fluff would easily get through even the small meshed chicken wire which enclosed the area.

But we needn't have worried Carpet was such an attentive mother they rarely left her side as she took they round the pen foraging and scratching for food.

By day 7 the chick's wing feathers start to appear and you could really start to see they were growing from tiny balls of fluff to a more defined shape.

Day 8 their wings continue to grow and their markings become more distinctive, they are growing fast and extremely active foraging for food under the guidance of their admirable mother.

Now just over a week old the little 'uns are adorable, with tiny wings that they regularly exercise, fluffy legs and feet and bright eyes. Extremely vocal, active and unbelievably cute they are fascinating to watch and provide us with constant entertainment. 

It is certainly true to say that the simple things in life are often the best and are there to be enjoyed. Hatching out eggs was always a part of keeping chickens that we were keen to do, but there never seemed to be the time.  Now each day we look forward to seeing these little youngsters grow and develop - how lucky we are!

Sunday 11 August 2019

Broody bantam

Quite recently we were asked if we would provide a home for some Peking bantams, as they could no longer stay with their current owner. Whilst a little unsure about how they may be received by the bigger birds, we didn't want to think of them as homeless and so added them to our flock.

They arrived with their minder the Cream Legbar - now known as Denis and they soon settled in running with the bigger birds after less than a week. They have found their place and despite their smaller size they compete for food and attention alongside even the biggest of our Bluebells.

Now we have a variety of different types of hens it is noticeable that some are more prone to being broody than others and the bantams have demonstrated that they are frequent wannabe mothers. The hen with the really mottled plumage, nicknamed 'Carpet' has been broody several times since they joined us. On the last occasion she got it so bad that we were unable to 'break' her, whatever we tried failed, even frequent cuddles and plenty of attention were unsuccessful.

There was only one thing left to do and that was to approach a neighbour who also keeps bantams, (with a cockerel) for some fertile eggs. Although there were none in their coup, she did let us have 7 which she found in the in the flower border. Although a little uncertain as to whether they would still be viable we were very grateful for the opportunity to put our very broody hen a peace.

She was in heaven!!!

We gave her the run of the outside coup and pen where she could stretch her wings a couple of times a day and run around making broody clucks, but it was quite apparent that her focus for the next 21 days was to the 7 eggs that she smothered with her small but adequate feathery frame. Now it was for us to count down the days, marked on the calendar we waited for any sign of change. With unsuccessful attempts of candling - shinning a light under the egg to detect development - we waited patiently...

Monday 5 August 2019

Somerset Local Food Direct

Recently we have been working with Somerset Local Food Direct to market and sell our produce. They are an organisation set up to revitalise rural economies by supporting local, small-scale social and traditional growers, farms and independent food and drink producers across Somerset. With the aim of sustaining existing employment and creating new jobs for local people. Working with them provides us with another opportunity to reach a new market and find new customers. As part of the main website, we have a Godney Aquaponics page and this tells potential buyers of our produce a bit about us and the range of products we have forsale. 

As part of introduction to the organisation, they organised an evening visit, for employees, volunteers and customers to come out and see our operation.

It was a most enjoyable evening, with lots of chat about the subject close to all our hearts - local food!!

The aim of the organisation is to enable affordable fresh, local and healthy produce and provide a friendly home delivery service direct to homes within communities across Somerset. They have a variety of local producers, which sell a range of local products, from meats to greens.

During the evening we had the opportunity to talk to current and potential customers about some of unusual vegetables that we are currently growing, such as agretti.

The new Italian delicacy, known in English as 'Saltwort'. With a flavour described as a chivey samphire it has a mildly salty, mineral tang, similar to that of a succulent spinach. Its fleshy needle-shaped leaves are traditionally served with olive oil and lemon, but are also fantastic when steamed and served with a sweet and sour sauce or lentils.

Outside Melv showed us the red orach, often known as red spinach, but has a sweeter taste when cooked, with a slightly mineral flavour and a hint of fennel. This orach is smoother and silkier than spinach, but like spinach, releases considerable liquid when heated, tinting surrounding ingredients a delicate shade of pink.

Somerset Local Food Direct is a Community Benefit Society owned and financed by the local community. They are committed to promoting the abundance of beautiful local food produced and made by Somerset’s local producers.

As a new business we enjoyed the opportunity to talk to people who were interested in what we were trying to achieve and some of the obstacles that we faced. Being part of this unusual organisation that fits so well with our own objectives has given us a much wider reach to people who will potentially be supportive and valuable local customers. They recognise that it is vital that small, often specialist, local food and drink producers have access to a wider customer base than they can supply just through farm-gate sales and attending local markets.

Conversations around the compost heap were around how important it is to know where your food comes from, who produced it, how they produced it, exactly what went into it and how it helps both the environment and the local economy. 

Melv explained the scale of our operation and we both reinforced the importance of the role that Somerset Local Food provides as the essential organising link between producers and customers. The service they provide is to organise a weekly order cycle which closes at 9am on Tuesday morning, when they collate all of the customers’ orders and contact us as one of the suppliers to gather together our part of the orders. We then harvest and deliver to the warehouse where it is boxed up and delivered to the customers' door on Thursday or Friday of the same week, in time for the weekend - brilliant.

Home grown

Now normally with our horticultural hats on when we talk about home grown we are refering to vegetables. But for the first time since we hav...