Smart Garden: First Crop

They say that there is nothing like the taste of your own produce, and if the biltong produced recently had anything to go by, then those first lettuce and basil leaves would be equally as sweet.

I have been very impressed so far with the output from the Smart Garden. Incredibly easy (although expensive) to set up with zero maintenance, just plant the pods, fill the reservoir, turn it on, click back and whittle some whilst watching stuff grow.

Of the three plants planted, the lettuce was by far the fastest to sprout and bloom into edibles, closely followed by the basil. The tomato plant however has taken longer to get off the ground but the guide advised this in advance so not quite ready for my first BLT.

So today I took the lettuce and basil with some mozzarella cheese and salsa, and I must say it was great. Clearly the amount of produce that the smart garden generates isn’t going to allow one to go off-grid, but what it has done is given me an appetite (in more ways than one!) to install my vertical garden on the patio and come spring, start growing my own vegetables, herbs and plants.

Clearly pre-prepped soil pockets, water, light, heat and a total lack of bugs has allowed Crop 1.0 to flourish, I’m sure outside gardening will be a whole different ball-game but looking forward to the challenge.

It’s a jungle out there…

Well I’m starting to get quite excited about eating my first crop of BLT (Basil, Lettuce and Tomato).

It’s been just four days and already the seeds are starting to germinate in my new smart garden (well the Basil and Lettuce is, not sure what is going on with the Toms yet)…

I’m surprised I’ve not had a knock on the door from the plod yet, as the garden sits on the windowsill of the office, it does look like I’m growing my own weed through a hydroponics system from the pavement outside.

Maybe next crop…

Smart Gardening…

Back when I had a BBC TV licence (Covid coverage was the death knell for me), I used to watch the programme Click, which as an IT nerd gave me some insights as to what gizmos and gadgets were making their way onto the scene.

One such gadget I recalled from last year was the concept of Smart Gardens, hi-tech hydroponic/LED systems which allowed one to grow small fruits, mini vegetables and herbs (with a “h”) from the comfort of their living room, kitchen or in my case, office.

Following on from our foraging foray a fortnight who, and following the wife’s recent membership to a “UK preppers” group on The Book of Face, we wholeheartedly concurred that from next Spring, we would start to grow our own fruits, vegetables and herbs (with a “h”) from our small patio garden.

The only downside of living where we do has always been garden space. We have never complained too much though as there are plenty of green spaces nearby and we can see both the sea and the beach from our daughters bedroom.

So whilst I draw up plans and schematics for our proposed vertical garden (raised beds for beets, onions, potatoes and carrots as well as wall planters for fruits and herbs), my mind switched back to the here and now, so after a trawl through Amazon I found the not-so-cheap Smart Garden 9, as advertised on the BeeB.

After humming and harring for a couple of days, I connivingly waited for the wife to drop into the hypnagogic zone and received her royal seal of approval to proceed with the purchase, albeit from the realm of slumber.

I woke up this morning quite excited for the delivery man, and as promised, the service level agreement was not breached and the goods arrived on time.

And so to the unboxing…

Rather amusing Chinese proverb on the inside box, who could argue with that logic, smart bloke that Confucius fella…

Outer cover off revealed the LED lighting system and the “free” pods, Basil, Lettuce, Tomatoes (vegan BLT)…

Who knew that the island of Hiiumaa off the coast of Estonia is one of the cleanest places on Earth. Who knew that the island of Hiiumaa even existed…

BLT in all of its plasticised glory. Shame that they couldn’t come in more biodegradable wrappings, everything else in the box was cardboard and 100% recyclable…

The main unit, which contains the water reservoir and nine empty micro-pods, ripe for the planting…

Did I say there was an instruction manual to begin with, as a bloke this was of course superfluous (until I got stuck)…

The main unit set up, LED attached to arms and mains adapter primed…

Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink (unless you are a plant). Four litres added to the reservoir and one of each of the BLT potted. I decided to do one of each at first rather than overload the unit, taking lessons from the first batch (much in the same way as I did for the biltong recently).

There she grows!

A cautionary note and lesson number one learned, fill the reservoir at the point of habituation not as I did on the dining room table on the floor beneath, I do hope I didn’t flood the pods with all of the swishing around.

Looking forward to seeing how the first batch grows, with the Mighty Cthulhu and the Ever Bubbly Bubblies of Shub Niggurath watching over them, I’m sure things will be just fine with a bit of cultist chanting.

Ia-Ia, Cthulhu ftagn!

Mid Morning Mushrooms…

Keen to consolidate my foraging training, I took to the woods today with old faithful to see what mushrooms I could find. The weather was quite damp in the early part of the week, replaced by dry and sunny conditions towards the weekend, so according to my man-based mushroom guide and my paper-based mushroom guides, perfect conditions for a romp amongst the trees in search of a fungus or two.

Today was more of a “recky” than a restocking of the larder as I’m in London this week.

As the last post explained, my interest in mushrooms has exponentially increased recently due to the revelations from my foraging guide and those of Dennis McKenna (Terence’s brother) who took a seat on the Joe Rogan Experience a few years back and went into quite some detail on psilocybin mushrooms. As I only have Spotify and Audible on my phone, I searched for Terence McKenna audiobooks and one did come back – True Hallucinations – which I took a punt on, downloaded and started to play on our early morning journey to Roydon Park in the heart of the Wirral Peninsula.

Although not narrated by either McKenna, the first chapter was intriguing, setting up I guess the back drop for the rest of the book, the Brothers McKenna “trip” to the Amazon rainforest, in search of hallucinogens.

We parked up and instead of sticking to the path as we usually do, we headed straight into the thick wood, mindful that the denser it was, the more humid and moist it would be, and as such, perfect conditions for shrooms.

Old faithful was in his element, as soon as I let him off the lead he was away. He adores the woods and quickly forgets that he is not a puppy anymore, sprinting off to hunt out the smell of, and the capture of, squirrels (not so much the capture part), his springer spaniel DNA kicking in.

So as he was off doing his own thing, I started to look around for produce. Imagine my shock then when what could only be described as the ghost of Terence McKenna invisibly steered me across the wood to a rotten tree stump which had a burst of small mushrooms on it.

To my utter surprise and unless I was mistaken (which I could well be as it’s early doors for me), were hundreds of what looked like Magic Mushrooms (Psilocybe Cubensis). I know these come in many shapes and sizes and the ones I took in my youth did not look like the ones I saw before me today, but I had a good inkling that they were indeed what I thought they were (some validation in my books and an internet search would tend to confirm such).

It is of course illegal to pick, dry and be in possession of these non-taxable, free-thinking, mind-expanding, depression-ceasing, consciousness-creating fungus, so I’ll neither confirm nor deny that these are or are not in my possession (Shrodingers Mushroom…)

The most abundant mushroom we found over the course of our morning bimble was Birch Polyphone (Piptoporus Betulinus), it was everywhere. There are plenty of Silver Birch trees in the woods, and a large majority of them had these sprouting from various parts of the trees in a variety of shapes. Sadly these aren’t edible, which is a real shame as there were enough to open a greengrocers shop.

Continuing on, I spotted a clump of brown ball-shaped mushrooms on the forest floor, and on closer inspection, I believed them to be the Common Earthball (Scleroderma Citrinum) which indeed they were. Using my very new and very awesome and very legal curved foraging knife, I cut into one and as suspected, saw a quartz like glittery black innard, the same quartz like glittery black innard we saw on our trip two weekends ago.

I recalled a snippet of info that whilst (again) this was not edible, the outer layer can be peeled off and used as a plaster for a wound, a neat feature in case you just happened to slice your finger open by say putting away a very new and very awesome and very legal curved foraging knife…

Next up was one I’d never seen before which looked like orange jelly. As there are over 8000 species of mushrooms in the UK, I could be wrong but I believed it to resemble a Yellow Brain (Tremella Mesenterica), again inedible but nice to see a new species in glorious Technicolor.

This was closely followed by a solitary toadstool looking very lonely indeed, and a scrawl through the field manuals couldn’t offer up a single suggestion so I left it there for the faeries to rest on a while.

Old faithful legs were starting to give way and the onset of his glaucoma is starting to take hold. Still off-lead, he wandered a bit too far away and I called him, and much to my sadness saw him off in the distance dead ahead yet confused.

I called him repeatedly and he ran off in different directions, able to hear me but not able to locate me. I ran to him, calmed him down and put his lead back on. He has been the most amazing and utterly insane canine I’ve ever owned and it’s sad to gradually see various parts of him pack in, I try not to think about the day when he’s not around.

Leaving the wood, we saw a squirrel haven with many oak trees and fallen acorns, as well as plenty of Rosebay Willowherb / fireweed (Epilobium Angustifolium), one of natures great firestarters (twisted firestarters…)

On our way back to the car, we took to a hacking trail, and there was a very amusing sight, this time my eyes playing tricks on me and not old faithful’s. We came across a fenced-off field and in the distance, I thought there was a small stone circle or henge, which instantly put my hippy spider senses tingling. Putting my glasses on revealed that it was not a circle of stones, but a circle of small police traffic cones, in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere. Bizarre!

The Path…

One of my favourite films of all time is Into The Wild, an existential journey of a man who turns away from a promising career in law and instead chooses a life less ordinary by today’s norms.

The inspiring yet ultimately tragic tale of Christopher McCandless (portrayed expertly by the then young Emile Hirsh) strikes a chord for those trapped in a similar situation, faced with a life changing choice.

The film resonates on several levels, of how important nature and relationships are and how unimportant material possessions and conformity really are.

Most of us choose our own paths, although sadly some have paths chosen for them, victims of society or oppressors. Seldom it seems do we make life-changing alterations to our paths, instead opting for safety and reduced risk.

JFK said it best when he exclaimed (in relation to going to the moon):

“We do things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too”.

Last weekend, I met up with my old buddy “M” for a walk in the Clwydian Hills in North Wales, the first time we had been in each other’s extended company since our “Not the New Years Eve Party” on the 3rd of January this year.

We set off early (separate cars) and reached our destination as the early morning field mists began to dissipate as the sun rose higher in the sky.

Opting for the forest route, we bimbled and talked for almost three hours about Life, the Universe and Everything, taking in the flora, fauna and vistas as we wove in and out of copses and along the long and winding path.

Our paths have not been too dissimilar to date, both work in IT, married with children, houses, cars, pensions etc.

We both have a passion for consciousness theory and spent most of our morning discussing time; does it really exist, does the arrow of time only ever go one direction, is our life path predetermined or do we have free will to influence it, are there infinite paths which all play out in hidden dimensions and it is our choices that steer us to the one we perceive as reality?

We talked about our shared goals too, to retire as soon as we were able and lead that life less ordinary, and I shared my own vision of what that may look like; a small holding off-grid, away from everything that has polluted humanity to the extent that we see today every time we turn on the news.

One thing was for sure, time flies and before we knew it we were back at the cars and heading home.

As I drove home, a song came on my playlist from a prog rock band from the UK called Haken. “M” and I had seen them live a few years back (back when live music was still played – I miss it so much), after which we chatted to the lead singer a while, blood nice chap.

Decanting my hiking gear from the car and sitting down with my mid-morning brew, I chanced to read over the lyrics of the song, and how wonderful and poignant they are:

“This life is a dream
A gift we receive
To live and to love
We forge The Path

Our nightmare in birth
Our struggle for worth
In vain we carry on
Our mission to become

Adapt to this world
It’s a chance we must take
We’ll sing our song
We’ll play our hand”

We are all on different paths, our own journeys through time and space, yet sometimes our paths converge with those of others. We should cherish the moments where we can walk along side others, for those moments, those fleeting moments (like my morning trek with “M”) interlink kindred spirits and it is the metaphysical relationships with fellow man that makes us what we are, human…