Monthly Archives: April 2019

Microgreens

While I was staying in London last month, I had the opportunity to go on a guided tour of a hydroponics company, Growing Underground. They literally do grow underground, in tunnels underneath Clapham Common, paralleling the Northern Line, originally designed as possible air raid shelters. They supply around 40 supermarkets at the moment, nearly all of them in London, so the food miles are minimal, and the products are tasty – zingy, chewable and you can just feel all the nutrients being absorbed into your system. The scale is amazing, and of course they’re expanding all the time: more varieties and mixes, different hydroponic solutions, different lights, different markets. It’s wonderful, and it employs maybe a couple of dozen people. This is the tour group I went round with:

My tour group

It made me enthusiastic about microgreens all over again, so I set up an experiment once I got home. I wasn’t as scientific about it as I could have been, but it convinced me that I could certainly grow a couple of portions of green veg every day, only limited by the amount of seeds.

I’d already set up a little home-made microgreens kit, which I’d put by so that I could start it up quickly if need be: just some supermarket trays that had held fresh veg, some seeds and a couple of litres of bought-in topsoil nearby. The results were even better than I’d hoped, though I’ll run the experiment again in a more measured way, so that the number of seeds is constant, for instance.

Here’s my conclusions:

Watering

I have a tendency to drown indoor plants, but I did really well with these:

  • watered once and covered them with a paper towel for 3 days, until they were properly poking their heads above the soil.
  • When I watered them subsequently, I used a small, purpose made watering can with a rose on it, instead of an ordinary kitchen jug – for people who over-water, this is a seriously brilliant idea.

Seeds

I didn’t use expensive seeds, I used green lentils from Sainsbury, £1.15 for 500g, and soaked them for 24 hours. This was almost too long, as I was just starting to see the tips of the shoots coming out. I’d go for 20 hours next time.

Trays

The supermarket trays are so easy to re-use, so accessible, and free, but they have their problems. The first harvest, because I couldn’t see the bottoms of the stems, I left them too long, they were turning brown, and I lost maybe 10% of the crop to this effect. Not important today, of course, but if I was in real need of these nutrients, that’s too much to lose. I suggest that any tray used might be better to be only about an inch high, and then you can see much more easily when you should harvesting. If they were flatter than the supermarket trays, that would help too.

First harvest at home

Harvesting

This was great, because I ended up treating them as cut and come again plants – the same little tray got me a total of four harvests, just roughly chopped up and sprinkled over pasta or something. It certainly felt like a proper portion-of-fruit-and-veg, not just a little sprinkle.

Growing Medium

Just an inch or so of a bog standard potting mix from any big store – B&Q, Wickes, Wilko, Poundland, whatever’s easily available to you. At Growing Underground, they use a hydroponic liquid circulating through a kind of web of filaments made locally from recycled carpet, and after being used for a while, they’re transported a few miles to a biomass power plant and used for fuel. My equivalent of supermarket topsoil is now sitting in my compost bin, of course.

Plant Protection

If you look online, you can see that people grow in propagators, to avoid draughts and keep a better, more even heat for the plants. I didn’t use any for this experiment, and these days, with the extremes of temperature we’ve been having, I think you’d need to be very proactive about taking the protection on and off, so that the little microgreens don’t die from overheating.

Lighting

LED lights are also popular. I didn’t use any, but having a set overhead would extend your ability to grow more food more quickly. Nor would you have to turn your tray so often to catch the light coming through the window. They can get really expensive, really fast, but I’ll certainly be buying a bulb, one that fits an ordinary lamp.

All in all, I’m very happy with the experiment, though I’m less happy with the amount of time it’s taking me to learn the latest WordPress upgrades. At least I can get images again: here’s a nice one of a portion-sized helping of microgreens.

The finished article

May all your Microgreens be Marvellous.

Blog update, and a fortnight in London …

Some time in the last three weeks, this web address was taken over by scammers. Since my last post on here at the end of January, I’d been focussing on digging the remaining brambles out of the garden, and on planning a kitchen renovation (first ever! Exciting but time consuming). Plus the cat sitting which is the subject of the post itself. And the blog fell by the wayside a little bit. In mid March, I started updating, but then there was a problem with a kitchen supplier, and it went by the wayside again. So when I was ready to finally update, it was too late, it had been taken over, and I’ve been working on it for the last four days, on and off. I should have paid more attention to what I wrote here. And I can tell that the links still don’t work properly. More work needed on that.

That leads me to the final update: thank you to the membership on here, for actively supporting me behind the scenes, it’s meant a great deal to me.

On with the blog post.

I’ve just finished up a fortnight’s catsitting gig in London right now, for a set of relatives gone travelling. It’s been interesting from a preparedness viewpoint, particularly being in London with the Brexit countdown reaching it’s final days (maybe).

Food and Water Preps

Everything was very quiet when I arrived (and was the entire time) so the normal preps took precedence. If there was a water main problem, I’m sure bowsers would be set up pretty soon by the local council, but I don’t know the area, I have no proof I’m staying here, and I don’t have my normal range of containers to hold any water I would be able to collect.

Water was first, therefore. I filled a 5 litre pan with water, first thing: after all, a broken water main isn’t exactly unknown in London, and as well as me, I have two shy rescue cats to consider.

Food is tricky: I can’t bring or buy the stocks I usually have at home, life doesn’t work that way. But within a day, I had enough dried foods – sachets of microwave rice, tins of potatoes, baked beans and butter beans, cheese, nuts, dried fruit, and a few kilos of frozen veg – to last a fortnight. All the kind of things I eat anyway, though I’ve been slower in getting my usual sauces and condiments – pesto, tomato puree, soy sauce and honey.

Shelter As Prepping

Shelter is 90% sorted, of course, I’m staying in the flat where the cats were re-homed. There are vulnerabilities, however:

  • A new routine for where you keep the house keys is tricky to set up. You can’t keep them in the door! If there’s a house fire, you need them right away, you can’t take the time to search for them without risking your life. In the end, I decided to keep them, my own house keys, and my train ticket home, in the partially-zipped inner pocket of the fleece that I kept right by my bed.
  • Because the immediate area was so quiet, I don’t think I was in trouble here if there was any sudden rioting, whether about Brexit or about something else. There’s a shopping centre and library two roads over, at a typically busy London junction, with a high street crossing it – I’m sure that’s a much more likely location. I might well get overspill here, and I’d stay alert, but I’m as sure as I can be, that there wouldn’t be any trouble (though see below).
  • Severe weather plus power cut? I haven’t brought a camping stove with me, not even my little hexi stove, which folds down to a ridiculously tiny size. That’s something to think about. But as to what I’d do for today, if this happened: I’d get me and the cats into one room, and one room only. I’d get their food, their fresh litter, the litter trays, the bin for the used stuff, and lots of plastic bags. I’d get water in here, in as many containers as I could find. I’d get all the store cupboard food in here, and I’d scout out the local supermarket to see if I felt okay about going in to buy more. I’d bring in all the duvets and blankets I could find, of course, and my own pack, so I had access to it. It wouldn’t be as liveable as my own place, but I think it would be liveable. There are a lot of candles scattered around the flat, and I have a couple of slimline torches, the sort that run off one AA battery. And my trusty wind up radio.
  • Security. Obviously, I’m not going to parade somebody else’s security all over the web, even though it’s anonymous. But the quality and number of the locks on the doors and windows are good. There’s a metal fence at the boundary of the property that reaches head height. And the flat I’m staying in is on the first floor, not the ground floor. It’s pretty good, as far as these things go.

Financial issues

I’m really thinking of things like a cyber attack on a bank, or the railways or shops. I have food to last me (and the cats), I have plenty of cash I brought with me – again, not as much as I have at home, but that’s a calculated risk – my return ticket home is already paid for and printed, it should be fine. What I haven’t done is bring a lot of change with me: it’s so heavy, it just wasn’t a high enough priority. If there’s problems, I’ll use the notes and be damned.

Leaving the city

But what if there was the sort of trouble that meant I had to leave? I have options: I could take the cats to a local shelter set up by the council, maybe, and tough it out there till my relatives got home from their trip and I could buzz off home? If it was near to the time of their return, I could take my chances and buzz off home anyway, they’ve said to me already that in emergencies I could leave the cats alone, if well set up, for 36 hours or so. And they have local friends who might still be able to step in in an emergency.

I have contacts in London too: a friend who lives only walking distance away from the flat. She’s in the emergency services, however, as well as local government, and I’m sure she’d be out in the thick of whatever it was, helping out.

I also have two other nephews who now live in London: but they both have wives and babies, very young babies, and I’m really not planning to dump myself on them, unless it was something as minimal as “please fill up my water bottle with fresh water before I do the next bit of the trip home”. And I certainly wouldn’t want to impose two problematic cats on them.

My preferred option, in reality, would be to stay in the flat as long as possible, in the hope that things would get sorted out, or that at least my relatives would get home and take care of their own cats. In that scenario, I’d be getting a train back to my own town. In the very worst case scenario, I’d be walking back; I might have to walk the whole way, or there might be buses laid on to get people out, or a relative who lives near my own home might be able to come and fetch me from wherever I’d temporarily landed up. Scouting out the necessary route back, until it joins up with a “bug home” route I’ve already established, is important. And in any of those situations, a good mobile phone and a fully charged power bank would be godsends. I happen to have just bought a power bank, from Anker!

Really, all of this is just a simple thought experiment. There’s an ethical issue underlying some of the above, however. What if I abandon these cats, that have been entrusted to my care? What if they die because of that? What if the situation is resolved just after I abandon them and they still suffer because I didn’t tough it out for them? What would that do to my family relationships in the future, for example? It’s not useful to go through those issues and their permutations here, because that’s totally about the personalities of the people involved, but they’re certainly the kinds of things that need mulling over, to be fully prepared.

Were there any prepping fails? As a matter of fact, yes, two of which happened when I got home:

  • I was so focussed on prepping, I forgot to do the normal things. Like, pack a comb. And I have long hair, so that was a mistake …
  • When I got back home, I did well in getting unpacked and everything put away. By about 6pm, I was ready to put the heat on and sit down. Except I couldn’t, because the battery that runs the wireless thermostat had run down. I had to find a new one so that the heating would even start up. That was an eye opener, and something I’ve been meaning to fix for a long time, having a regimen of battery charging. More on that another time.
  • my cash stash was still in my fleece when I washed it! Luckily, the security pocket is so small, the notes didn’t get tumbled about, and just came out a bit damp. A couple of days draped over a radiator sorted that.

In the meantime, life goes on. As well as ordinary days out, I’ve had some interesting trips of a prepping nature – a city farm based in disused tube tunnels, an exhibition about how to grow more food within the city, checking out a crafting superstore and even emergency water sources. The latter was totally an excuse to walk along the banks of a well-kept river, and very pleasant it was too. The weather showed me it could throw a fit sometimes too, as dustbin lids were being blown down the street. As I say, life goes on.