Thursday 22 November 2012

Energy saving tips

It is amazing how much energy some people waste! You would think in these days of high energy costs, everyone would be switching things off at every opportunity, and insulating everything in sight!

10 ideas for energy saving

1. Lights off when you don't need them! Same goes for the TV and other electrical appliances - one of the neighbours seems to leave the TV on all night!

2. Drive slower, I drive at about 60mph now on A roads and motorways, and now get about 550 miles to 50 litres of petrol (car is a 1.6l Scenic). The way you drive is also a factor, steady not zooming around from junction to lights etc

3. Turn the heating down - adjust the timer for the times you really need it, and turn down to 16 or 17 deg C, plenty warm enough apart from in really cold snaps. Heat the rooms you are in.

4. Close the curtains at dusk, make sure windows are shut when the heating is on.

5. Change energy supplier - I have just changed and will save about £100-150 a year all being well. Look at your energy use in cooking, electric rings stay hot for a while after switch off, food will still cook with the remaining heat, switch off the kettle before the end, it's boiling quite a bit before it switches off.

6. Look at your appliances and central heating - I went from a G rated back boiler to a A rated combi, most appliances are A or even A+ rated nowadays

7. Keep doors shut - retain the heat in the rooms. Make sure visitors do the same when they come in!

8. Look at renewables if you have the spare cash to invest, and can justify the payback time. User solar or wind up chargers for phones and radio etc.

9. Grow your own - better for you (if organic), better for the environment (massive food miles by supermarkets), buy local

10. Insulate - loft grants are still available, as are cavity wall ones. If you don't have cavity walls, put a layer of loft insulation on a bare wall, with wooden slats between the lengths, then tongue and groove panel over the top to give a nice insulated wall, and it stops damp as well on cold walls.

Above all, just think about what you do, and what you can do to save energy!

Long time, no blog!

It's been a while since I last posted, time seems to have gone so quickly. Now it's November and the allotment is going into shutdown mode (cue Windows (tm) chime...)

There are still plenty of parsnips growing, in fact there's two rows, one for eating and one for wine making, that's assuming I can get another demijohn, a sterilised bucket and all the other associated bits and bats before January. There's leeks as well but that's really about it apart from the fractal cauliflower (below) which, now picked, I am told tastes like broccoli.

So, much of the work has been digging over the ground ready for next year, though there's some winter broad beans gone in and some winter lettuce and cabbage. I have got some manure (a local farmer drops some off for the allotment holders to share each year), so that's around where the peas and beans will go, and I have mulched around some of the fruit trees. I need to stake out the pears as they are growing a lot now.

Friday 31 August 2012

The Moon

Isn't it strange, I was reading about why a "blue moon" is called a blue moon yesterday, and lo and behold we have one today. Though it's cloudy and you can't see it! A blue moon is the second full moon in a particular month. As this only occurs once every 2.75 years or so, hence the saying "once in a blue moon". The reason is that the moon's cycle is 29 days, whereas months are mostly 30 or 31 (except Feb of course), so eventually the date of full moon fits twice within a month.

As always Wikipedia explains best

So I decided to do a bit of Moon digiscoping! I know this isn't quite full moon but you have to do this when the sky is clear!

For digiscoping you don't need too much equipment. You can use your compact camera - in fact I have read that compact cameras are actually better for this than DSLRs in some respects, although you need a long shutter speed for anything really remote, like nebulae etc (and an equatorial mount but I can't afford one of those just now!). You also need a camera mount for the telescope - about £20. The telescope btw was about £50 off eBay, it's a 75mm objective with a 25mm and 9mm lens and 3x Barlow Converter. So it gets some decent stuff for casual viewing. And it's the right way up so I can digiscope wildlife as well.

The above is a close up of Tycho, a crater near the base of the moon. Notice the white rays coming off it, which are streams of material ejected when the meteorite impacted the moon's surface. These rays are common to a few craters such as Archimedes and Plato in the north west quadrant of the moon (viewed right way up), and are only really spectacular near the full moon, whereas for crater spotting you probably need a much less full moon to get the shadows etc.

The difficulty with digiscoping is setting the telescope up first, even though the moon is pretty big in the sky you would be surprised how difficult I found it with a 9mm lens to pinpoint it. Plus it moves in the few minutes it takes to point the telescope the right way! Before I got the camera mount I took video to compensate for camera shake and telescope shake, and also before I found the setting on the compact camera (a Canon) to delay a photo for anything up to 2 or 3 minutes - though 20 seconds is usually enough.

I haven't had much luck yet with stars, despite keeping the shutter open for a while - in any case to do this properly as I mentioned you would need an equatorial mount and probably a 4 to 6 in scope, which isn't in my budget just now....

Monday 27 August 2012

Nothing new under the sun...

Just reading a very interesting volume collection of a weekly newspaper called The Graphic published in Victorian times. This volume covered the period of January to June 1887 and does seem to be contemporary published folio, based on what I read on such as AbeBooks.

Some topics in the news include:

Concern regarding the call to Jihad by an Afghan ruler, particularly against the Russian empire.
An enquiry into the earnings of doctors to see whether some doctors were being paid excessively
Concerns about "the 3 R's" in education
various earthquakes and disasters at sea.
Whether the Post Office should deliver on Sundays.
Preparations for the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria and a historical look back at the Jubilee of George 111.

Though some topics are definitely of the time:

Discovery of Gold in the Transvaal     (now South Africa)
The last battle in the wars in Arizona and Mexico against the Apache Indians
The opening of the new Tay Bridge

Adverts were for such as Pear's soap, Fry's chocolate and cocoa, Beecham's remedies

One advert was entitled "To Stout People" and was a remedy to cure obesity!

Friday 20 July 2012

Allotment report or Weeds R Us.. with a bit of hedgehog

All this rain is good for weeds. And slugs. And snails. Wellies are good for rain. And for killing slugs. And for killing snails!

Hedgehogs are also good for getting rid of slugs but we've not had much luck with hedgehog survival in the allotment over the past few years. We had two drown in the sunken bath before we meshed it over, and one we tried to look after with a nice pile of weeds and twigs and grass, milk on a dish and meat fat, which also promptly died, but it did have some kind of growth on it, so it probably wasn't well anyway.

Why am I on about hedgehogs? Well I am now reading (now that my wife has finished it..) "A Prickly Affair" by Hugh Warwick, a self confessed hedgehog enthusiast, and - for balance - an ecologist.

A Prickly Affair: My Life with Hedgehogs

Now onto the allotment.

What's doing well:
Blackcurrants ( I have now spent several hours picking them...)
Parsnips (not ready yet but flourishing)
The damson and apple trees

What's not doing well:


What's got eaten
Cosmos plants
Many seedlings...

Office veg!

My office at work, as I may have mentioned before, is often like a greenhouse, being so hot at times.

So, a couple of years ago I started to use it as one!

It is a talking point, and staff and visitors are quite impressed! I think I also might be contributing to work's green strategy....

This year it's cherry tomatoes and a pepper plant and I have been bringing home cherry tomatoes all this week.

Friday 25 May 2012

Collapse of monetary commerce? Lesson from history

Found this interesting article about a new BBC programme

I have done quite a bit of reading recently about the late Roman period. I am quite fascinated about the period from 400AD, where the frequent invasions and uprisings, decline of the power of Roman emperors, usurpers to the Roman throne etc eventually led to the Rescript of Honorius, the response of the emperor to the Briton's appeal for help to protect them from invading hordes.

The end actually came more gradually. As late as around 450AD (I hate it when people try to use C.E so that they don't have to acknowledge religion!) St. Albans still had some semblance of Roman civilisation and community.

However, as people left the cities and made more of a subsistence living for themselves in the countryside, money wasn't needed any more as barter was much more useful. A similar thing happened when Argentina went bankrupt a few years ago, money no longer had any meaning and so people resorted to their own barter economy.

The same thing will probably happen in Greece, irrespective of whether it leaves the Euro or not. But if it leaves the Euro, without any form of backing to the "Promise to Pay" form of money - which of course has to be underwritten by the reserves of the Government or central Bank - then there is no basis for the currency. They'll get through it eventually - Argentina is now sufficiently back to normal as to throw its weight around about the Falklands!

There are some interesting parallels in the article, rise of radical movements, migration, greater divide between rich and poor etc.

I once saw a very interesting programme about the eruption of a volcano in about 510AD which caused a global cooling for 3 years or so - mass famine, failure of harvest, no summer - and we struggled nowadays with a small Icelandic volcano! (which I saw the year before it was famous!). This I think killed off - with a handful of exceptions -  the remaining western civilisations and then end of the Roman world was truly complete.....

Monday 21 May 2012

Saving money building scenery and structures in model making

One of my many hobbies is building up the model railway, especially the scenery. I have always been into model railways - my train set when I was a child was on an 8ft * 5ft board on a spare bed in my bedroom and myself and my Dad had further boards on trestles going round the room!

Anyway, model railway construction materials are often really quite expensive, as is the rolling stock. Luckily all  my stock from when I was a child was still stored underneath my old bed. One of my daughters said one day that we could get the model railway going again - I think she had been playing with my Dad's n gauge layout - and had worked out that if we cleared the spare bed, and got a board , we could have them running again.
So, I set to and cleaned and oiled the engines - although one of them ran straightaway despite being stored for about 15-20 years! I had to get some track - especially points as they were rusting, but other than that we had a basic layout without too much effort.

Now, my daughter is very into making models - she has a friend who is into Airfix and war gaming and she has made tanks and painted soldiers and we have had battles on the living room floor! My father-in-law let her have his Linka-Brick set.

Now, Linka-powder is not available any more, but there was still some left for starters. The idea is that you mix up the powder, pour into moulds - which are brickwork, bridge arches, roof tiles etc and leave to set.
Once dry, pop them out and then glue together into buildings or whatever you wish to construct.

The modern replacement for Linka-powder is Heraculite-3, available at craft shops and online. Pretty cheap as well, and it goes a long way. My daughter made the church below

We have also made our own moulds from polystyrene packaging to make rocks and bankings for scenery

 We popped the moulds out
 We then painted them
And then finally covered them with lichen (bought from a model shop - you get a lot of lichen for about £6 - used for trees and vegetation)

Ebay is also a good source for second-hand rolling stock and other people's leftover scenery, track etc, although competition is pretty stiff for it. Still, I got a "corridor" coach for £10, which is about half price compared to new.

However, I like the build-your-own or "scratchbuilt" as it is known, and if I was starting from cold the idea of building all my own rolling stock would be great - but with a lot of stock already I have only built a few fruit vans and mineral wagons from kits as I needed some more of these to produce typical trains for the period I have set the layout as - which is early 70's.

Sweetcorn disaster!

Now I know that many people think the thrush family of birds are gardener's friends. Well, yes they can be, munching through slugs, snails and other grubs that can cause problems in the allotment. However, today my wife was rather distressed to find that all the newly planted sweetcorn, and their peat pots were spread all over the place!
I went up first thing this morning to water them, all was well, but by late morning something had been along and pulled them up. Now, I have had problems with blackbirds pulling up the tails of onion sets before now - they are easy to put   back in and generally survive. But it looks like we have lost about 3/4 of the large sweetcorn my wife has spent a lot of time planting.
She wants to know whether she can wring the bird's neck! However I told her that such as song thrushes are on the "at risk" list of birds (their numbers have declined dramatically over the past few years, probably due to pesticides). She said that if she gets hold of it - it will be at risk!

We've not had bird damage before - even the woodpigeons don't seem to go for our allotment - I think it is because of the hedges - they seem to prefer the more open plots nearby where they can see their predators coming!

At least the mini sweetcorn were untouched, but they are a bit further on in growing and look less like the ends of worms.....

Sunday 6 May 2012

Sunny day at the allotment

Although I am still feeling the nettle stings, today was a productive day at the allotment.

Dug over part of the bottom end where the carrots were last year, and two seem to have survived the winter underground! They looked ok so that prompted me to pull the small number that still had leaves on which I thought would have been all woody by now. The guinea pigs ate the leaves, and we had a bit of fresh carrot in with the rice at lunchtime!

Picked a few very small leeks, again left overs from the winter, they went in the rice as well. Picked yet more brocolli, which didn't go in with the rice, I cooked this separately as I really dislike the stuff! The rest of the family eat it though.

As well as picking I did some actual work! Got the rest of the onion sets in, and did a fair bit of clearance work, especially around the blackcurrants and raspberries. We did blitz the area with newspaper and guinea pig bedding to create a mulch to keep the weeds down, but now the grass is growing on top of the newspaper!
It's a long process as it's touch grass and the roots of both the grass and raspberries and indeed the nettles make for a very slow job.

The chair I rescued from an allotment that was getting cleared out by the brewery last year is coming in handy and was a very pleasant place to sit, south facing in the sunshine today, it felt very warm but I think it only got to about 10 deg C on the thermometer, more rain tomorrow apparently

Finally, I picked some rhubarb, the kids eat it raw with sugar or sherbet dips. Peeled and sliced up the rest , sprinkled with sugar and froze ready for jam making later in the year, although I may use some to make a chutney recipe I have in the Preserves and Pickles book I have.

Sunday 22 April 2012

The Good Life - or is it?

On Saturday night I watched a repeat of The Good Life on BBC2 (they were doing some kind of retro evening complete with 70's graphics, Some Mothers Do Ave Em, Dad's Army etc, you don't get sitcoms like that anymore!)
I digress, but my point was that, given that Tom (Richard Briers) was concerned about saving his harvest, why on earth did they a) not wait until the ground had dried out again until harvesting their potatoes, and b) put damp potatoes in sacks!

It was though the case that back then, the whole self sufficiency thing was seen as a bit eccentric really, but now it's mainstream and lots of people was to grow their own food, keep chickens, use renewable energy etc.

Friday 20 April 2012

Allotment report

We still have lots of broccoli! This week we had enough for 4 people on 4 days, one of which wasn't me! (I don't like the taste at all but the rest of the family do!) It doesn't show any signs of slowing down, which could get to be a problem as I am running out of space for the potatoes that are going in that patch this year.  
I have continues to plant onion sets at the top end, we have not only the ones we have planted this year but also have the "Japanese" type ones that I planted in October.
My wife has also planted parsnips and leeks from seed that we have saved, and also some turnips and beetroot and peas, some of which have germinated, but the weather has been really quite cold of late so I can understand why things are a bit slow.

The tomatoes I am growing in the office need repotting again, they are about 8 or 9 inches tall, the ones in the lean to greenhouse in the garden are a bit small as it's not very warm for them, so they have also gone to the office for a nice warm and cosy weekend on the window ledge!

Saturday 14 April 2012

coin collecting

A lot has been said about gold... "we buy any gold dot com" and the like!

That's all very well, but what if you can't afford to splash out on some gold sovereigns, jewellery etc, and don't really want to worry about the cost of insuring all that wealth...

Well, there's value in silver and old copper coins but you need to know what to look for.

The current "big thing" are hammered silver coins. No not just an old sixpence that has been whacked with Stanley Tool's finest! Hammering was the ancient process of minting coins where a blank was put between two dies, one with the front of the coin, usually a portrait of the current emperor or monarch, and the reverse with a design, often a shield or coat of arms or cross with a pellet design and the like.

Then it was whacked with a hammer! (you can have a go at the Jorvik Viking Museum in York). The hammering process was was superseded by machinery (milled coinage) in about 1663. Early milled coinage (George 3 and before) is good to look for as well.

Ebay is a good place to start, but you have to be lucky or be prepared to actively go for the bid, as the demand is high. But sometimes you can be lucky especially if a coin has been listed wrongly.

Spinks catalogues give an idea of what to look for and current values of all coins since Celtic times. Or coin dealers of course, but they will by and large be selling coins for the market value, though again you can be lucky if you know what you are looking for.

The latest Spinks catalogues have pictures in colour which makes like a lot earlier, the black and white ones really didn't do the coins justice and made it hard to work out the detail sometimes.

There is a whole language associated with coin collecting but the Spinks catalogue has good explanations, and there are plenty of in depth books such as on Roman coins available.

Friday 30 March 2012

petrol and pasties!

Well, maybe on the 8th (see last blog post) I could see the future! Lo and behold we have panic buying of petrol! And a strike hasn't been declared yet... I went to the service station the other day in my 8 or 9 day cycle to fill up as usual, and was sitting in the queue for a while wondering how many of the people ahead actually needed the fuel!. I did, my car was bleeping at me as it was hungry!

I don't really want to get personal, but despite the lack of common sense shown by the lady who decided to decant petrol in her kitchen with the hob on, the government minister who suggested filling up jerry cans to stock up on petrol really does need to take some of the responsibility, as the lady in question wouldn't have felt the need to muck around with cans of petrol in her kitchen if the nitwits (and that is putting it mildly!) in Government hadn't opened their gobs and panicked the general sheep ...sorry general public....

And pastie tax...well if a pastie has just come out of the oven, do I have to wait until it has cooled down before I buy it? I heard one suggestion that bakeries should install microwaves for customers to heat their own pasties up... It turns out the last time the Prime Minister ate a pastie was 5 years ago, at a now defunct shop in Leeds railway station, he probably can't remember the last time he had to get his own food never mind go to a bakery!

Thursday 8 March 2012

Petrol prices

The petrol price is getting ridiculous! I remember when the fuel protestors were getting irate about petrol and diesel being 80p a litre back in 2000. Back then I was tipped off by a friend in the local garage on the Sunday, so filled my car right up - by Monday everyone was panic buying and there were queues everywhere. People just went silly - supermarkets cleared of bread and other staples... Thinking laterally, I went in a health food shop, got some yeast and we made bread that evening! Later that week the black propaganda from the Government got going, hospitals supposedly running out of fuel, ambulances not able to get fuel etc - shouldn't have been a problem as the military have an extensive fuel system designed during the Cold War to keep fuel flowing around the country in the event of a war. Besides the Government can use emergency powers etc. It was just to break the strike by turning the public against the blockade.
We'll find out in 20 years time when they release the papers what really was going on, what decisions were taken and so on.

Back to the present, I drive around at 60 mph most of the time now, and average 41mpg. How you drive is important too, no revving or fast acceleration, stop start in towns is bad as well - I use the motorway which is - miles wise just slightly longer than the A roads but get 1-2mpg better on the fuel and a much quicker journey time. However, I am filling up every week with about £66 worth of fuel just to get the kids to school and to work, although any trips out with work get mileage allowance.
The high fuel prices don't seem to stop some people though, there's always drivers zooming along in cars which are probably consuming a whole lot more than mine is. And they sit right up your backside if you happen to be in their way (tip - gradually slow down or raise your left hand (if in the UK) and motion backwards repeatedly, many times they get the message and back off. I have even heard of one driver stopping altogether and having words though I wouldn't recommend that myself!)

I have to consider though whether the amount I am using in petrol is sustainable, both from a cost point of view and I do feel a little guilty at burning all the carbon. However, I have no realistic alternative at present.


It is purple sprouting broccoli time! And we've got some creamy coloured sprouting brocolli which looks like those mini fractal cauliflowers you sometimes see in greengrocers - it does have a name but I can't remember what it is....

Saturday 11 February 2012

allotment in the snow

Now the 7th day with snow on the ground and -8 deg C when I went out. I heard on the radio the other day that fruit growers are very pleased at the cold snap. Due to the mild autumn and early winter, they were concerned that the fruit trees weren't getting the period of cold needed for the trees/bushes to help produce next year's fruit crop, thus affecting yields.

Be careful what you wish for! After a heavy snowfall on the 4th of February in the afternoon (complete with phantom accidents on the overhead road signs on the M1!), the snow has hung around, getting more icy, with another big dose of snow on Thursday 9th evening. Not much above freezing during the days so only a slight thaw, which has refrozen again into ice during the night.

Not as bad a the last two winters though, but there's time yet!

Allotment photos in the snow - the winter onions just poking out of the snow - they have had a good amount of growth in late autumn so should be fine, they are pretty hardy and most of them survived the last two winters.

Impossible to get the leeks out at the moment, they just snap off when you try and lift them!

And it won't be long until spring and broccoli! We've had a bit already, even a few springs of purple sprounting, but the main crop will be another month or so yet.

parsnip tea perhaps?

Do we eat this parsnip or do we make tea in it?