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 20 October 2020

Vibrant, Vigorous and Versatille

Or in one word -  the humble 'Nasturtium', this often overlooked little plant has many applications - as a popular garden plant, as a food or as an edible garnish to name a few.

Nasturtiums are grown worldwide, both as garden flowers and for culinary uses. We have seen it utilised in many culinary applications before, and in fact they are considered as one of the most widely recognised edible flowers. The brilliant yellow, orange or red flowers and peppery flavoured leaves are used in salads. The flowers are a good source of Vitamin C and iron. The seeds were used for a substitute for pepper during World War II. The name nasturtium means “nose twister” in Latin, referring to people's reaction upon tasting the flowers. In the past we have only ever seen this on cooking programmes on the television, but over the last week it is one that the kitchen at The Sheppey have been experimenting with.

Nasturtiums are only something that we have previously grown for ornamentation in the garden, however recently with the Sheppey's interest and out of something 'nice' to do, we have included it as an addition to our polytunnels. 
Using the homemade growbags previously used for the tomatoes, with extra compost and fertiliser added they fitted perfectly alongside the salad trays and have become rather a welcome addition.

There are a number of varieties and their leaves as well as very tasty, they are very attractive - from the plain, but beautiful dark, large green leaf of the Empress of India, which seems to accentuate they way they are positioned on a central stalk underneath their 'lilly pad' like shape.
To the lime green of the variety Gleaming Gold, which has smaller leaves which are numerous and form large clusters.
Then there is the glaucous leaf of the Jewel Cherry Rose, again a smaller variety, but plentiful.
And finally from the selection we are growing, there is the rather special variegated variety of the Alaska mix, which produces the most attractive and delicate garnish.
The large Empress of India served here at the Sheppey as a garnish with crispy Godney Aquaponics' Cavolo Nero on a vegetarian noodle dish, a chow mien, served with tempura mushrooms.

All parts of the nasturtium, except the roots, can be eaten: in addition to the leaves the fruits can be used for marinating vegetables, there are dishes spoken a such as marinated kidneys and green fruits of nasturtium used as a valuable substitute for expensive capers. The very attractive flowers can be stuffed, used as a garnish or added to drinks. 

Nasturtium is not only edible they are good for you too!! They have been used as a medicinal plant widely used in folk medicine and they have a long list of health benefits. They contain vitamin C, tropeolin, mustard glycosides, essential oil, carotene, B vitamins, iodine, potassium, phytoncides and phosphorus, and their leave contain 10 times more ascorbic acid than in lettuce leaves.

It is also claimed that nasturtiums are also good for the central nervous system, can strengthen blood vessels and bones, increase immunity, soften cough, normalise hormone levels, relieve pain, slow down the aging processes and remove carcinogens from the body. So all in all a truly amazing vigorous little plant bursting with attributes and versatility that goes without applauding the beauty of the flowers.

Which really are truly vibrant indeed.

Friday 16 October 2020

The Changing Seasons

As we watch the seasons change, we too try to change to adapt our growing approach. The tomatoes have been amazing this year, but as the first plants established, those in the small tunnel have started to burn out. and it is time for them to be removed. So a couple of weeks ago we made a start.
Looking rather sorry for themselves, we soon removed what was left of the plants, no need to try to save any fruit, they too were all burnt out. Planting in homemade compost bags, were both easy to install and just as easy to remove and recycle, all the compost being incorporated into our outside grow beds.
A little like the omelette saying and the breaking of eggs, the space starts to look worse before it looks better, but removing all the plants starts to display how big a growing space this small tunnel provides.
All plants and plastic removed and a sweeping brush does wonders, the lights already in place and ready to be switched on, all that was needed now was the installation of the staging to hold the grow trays.
Already constructed and stored in the barn over the summer, the main installation task was the levelling to ensure effective watering and feeding - Melv set to work. As the sun, although weak sent its rays, both the temperature and light levels increased rapidly and dramatically, it felt exciting that the salads in desperate need of both were soon to benefit.

As soon as installation of the first staging was complete I took no invitation to transport the existing growing trays in.
From all the research and experimental work undertaken last year and the need was currently to bring the colours out of the leaves. To change them from being washed out and pale, due to poor and reduced light levels that the end of the summer brings, to provide the conditions to encourage colour and vibrancy. Their growth pattern also needed to be improved, so that they present a better structure, with stronger and more robust leaves that don't have the appearance of stretching for light. 

We knew the lights were more than capable of doing this and that operating them during the day to supplement the daylight would do the trick. It was reassuringly good to feel that we knew the lights that we had worked so hard with the company, GN UK Ltd, who created them to get right, would be able to provide the additional levels needed, but also the colour combinations of red, blue and white spectrums required and would have the desired effect.
Importantly, operating them in this way meant that we could utilise the energy being generated by our solar array and so keeping the cost down and make the process as efficient as possible. This side of our salad growing operation plays a significant part. Although the market for the salads is at all times consistent and they are in very high demand, providing an essential and important link to our customers right through the year. From the local people to the busy Sheppey Inn, with the latter typically using more salad over the Christmas period than during the summer months. And although they essentially provide a valuable income particularly during our leaner times, despite this, the price they demand does make them fall within the category of being a low value product and the ambition has to be to keep their production cost to a minimum.
Operating from 10am until 4pm, we have been managing to achieve a DLI (Daily Light Integral) of between 14 to 19 and on many days at the high end of this spectrum, compared to outside conditions that have typically been a DLI of between 5 to 9. The salad leaves really require a minimum DLI of 14 or 15. So in theory we were hitting the mark - but theory is one thing, what about in practice were these levels being demonstrated in the growth rate, structure and appearance of the salad trays?

Of course!!!
Once again the colours have become intense, with the red leaves rich and vibrant, with an intense depth of colour. With regards to the structure and overall appearance - after just 5 days it is hard to comprehend the difference and only to be believed when two trays are presented side by side for comparison. Sown in the exactly the same way using the same materials, the lower without the lights the upper with 5 days of lights operated 6 hours a day.
Close up the difference is even more dramatic and one that we can't help but be proud of and pleased with.
It is lovely to be able to say that whatever the weather outside winter salads are now a pleasure to grow, sell and eat!!

Sunday 11 October 2020

Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3 or will it be 4?

 Funnily enough although we keep chickens it is a rare event that we actually eat eggs! It mainly happens when we have one which is cracked or dented, that has been laid when the bird is on a perch at night. However having pullets that are just about to lay their first eggs means that we get chance to try one before we let our customers have them.

Today was such a day, when we had 2 new pullet eggs and the very large rugby ball that we were unsure about what was inside??

Herby scrambled eggs on the menu, with homemade nut/seed bread, the first pullet egg went into the frying pan along with the herbs - perfect with a hard shell and beautiful coloured yolk.

Joined by the second, another stunner...
Next was the monster - so what was inside - several yolks, all white, a monster??? Melv cracked the tough shell and laid the contents into the pan to reveal...

Two beautifully formed yolks - so was this the result of an over eager pullet after all, we struggled to see how the old girls at this stage of their laying life would lay a double yolker, even our biggest bird - Big Blue. Especially as she currently looks like a porcupine, loosing feathers rapidly (not good as we approach the cold autumn), with her tail the appearance of a pom pom:
We will never know - but the breakfast was just amazing.
Delicately scrambled, served on a slice of homemade nut and seed bread, with caraway and fresh herbs, was delightful, and a real treat, especially as it is a breakfast that we only have when the rare occasion arises - very special - a big thanks to the girls.

Saturday 10 October 2020

Happy Harvesting

It was finally time...
The squash were ready for harvesting - we seized a rare dry, sunny day - which we haven't seen for a while - to delve into the squash beds and pull our the beautiful fruits hiding there. From Crown Prince to Bananas, with pretty Harlequins to boot - they shone in the sunshine and just begged to be collected up, cleaned and stored - ready for our local businesses and village people to enjoy.
Equipped with the secateurs, Sal worked her way through and presented to Melv for cleaning.
They were plentiful and the different colours shapes and sizes were adorable, the silk grey of the Crown Prince
Compared to the speckled and stripy Harlequin - a size for all, whether feeding a fully booked Sheppey, or providing for village people living on their own.
Then there were those in between, like the unusual shaped Banana
or the monsters such as this - unidentifiable!!
However the colour of the Uchiki Kuri can't go by unmentioned.
However all special in their own right - hey looked stunning as Melv placed them in the warmth of the salad tunnel to cure the skin, before we find them in a cooler location to store for the autumn and winter.
A lovely couple of hours work and definitely one of the perks of the job.
That's without getting to the eating part!!

However in that light- the other big reward is seeing local businesses using our produce and to hear that the squash hit the Sheppey's menu immediately was very exciting. It is massively satisfying to think that our growing efforts are inspiring local chefs to be creative and to experiment with new and innovative recipes.
'A new desert of crispy coconut rice pudding (rolled in cinnamon sugar), squash foam/mousse, spiced biscuit, crispy apple skins and vegan almond ice cream' - delicious.

Tuesday 6 October 2020


Well, not that I have been counting - but yesterday was a day to treasure - the first egg from our pullets - a very welcome addition to our currently limited egg supply.
Not quite the size of a bantam egg - yet - they are a beautiful brown and have a reddish tinge and would bring a smile to anyone's face.

In addition to the thrill of a pullet egg our eggperience today was even more of a treat and left us speechless...

Who on earth or what on earth laid this whopper - my word, compared to the pullet and bantam eggs it is MASSIVE, but even next to an typical sized hen egg it is ginormous. The next eggciting thing will be what is inside, will it be a double yolker like the delightful pullets, or maybe been a triple???

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...