Archive | December, 2011
31 Dec

The local foxes are continuing to howl and bark very late into the night, and that is a winter sound heard across the length and breadth of Great Britain. Lionwood is directly behind our house and contains the stand of Oak, Ash & Sycamore that shade our garden mentioned in an earlier post. There is an established fox den in there somewhere, although I have yet to find it. Every 2-3 nights Oz our Collie puts up a fox and chases it; sometimes across the open grass of Pilling Park, but more often in the gully of Lionwood behind the house. Each time he chases the fox in the gully Oz is lead on a chase that ends up in one of several  briar patches, and on the park he usually gives up halfway across the cricket pitch and returns to me.  The other night was slightly different as he managed to put up 3 foxes which I believe to be one vixen (probably in season) and two dog foxes (pursuing said vixen), and it was almost 90 minutes before I could get Oz back to me and under control again.  Every night for the last week Oz has begun barking at about 2.30 am and we think that this is in response to the local foxes: Lois & I are too sleepy to acknowledge the noise the foxes are making at this time of night.

Urban Foxes are now a real problem across the whole of the country, and the hunting ban of 6 years ago was in my opinion a very wrong decision taken by the then government, who were just trying to pacify certain elements of our society and to grab popularity and votes. With the reduction of Fox control by hunts has allowed the fox population to expand to the point where it is almost out of control. Nailing my colours to the mast I am pro Fox hunting. I grew up in Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire and was surrounded by three hunts; The Belvoir, The Cottesmore, and the Quorn. The general public were not given the full facts about the consequences stemming from the Fox hunting ban; Skilled craftsmen and labourers alike lost their jobs, skills have been lost, businesses have closed, large amounts money were taken from rural economies, and habitat was lost.

The loss of this habitat has rarely been reported in the press or mentioned in the media; after all it was only cover provided to encourage foxes for the hunt. These covers were essential oases of varied deciduous hard wood trees, and hedgerow that supported all manner of life: plants & fungi, bushes and trees, insects and invertebrate, birds and small mammals. Without the need to provide cover to encourage foxes this habitat has now all but disappeared to make way for agriculture and has taken away all the life that they supported. Bird and mammal numbers have plummeted to all time lows, and several species may have already reached or gone beyond a point of any recovery.

With this loss of cover, rural foxes have been pushed into areas that already supported urban foxes, and to make matters worse some householders are actively feeding the damn things, and that includes a near neighbour of ours.

One of our neighbours deliberately feeds the bloody foxes because he likes to see them, and this has culminated in young cubs actively entering all of the gardens near to us as they scavenged for food from bins and compost heaps. One evening in late August we had 3 cubs in the garden.

Norwich city council has also introduced recycling buckets for waste cooked food in our area, which has lead to an increase in rat activity, along with encouraging the foxes. With our intention of embarking into the realms of poultry keeping this year, no doubt we will be visited by these two species of vermin.

There are certain steps we will be taking to lessen the impact and visitations of rats. The Chicken feed will be stored in a metal container, the chickens will be fed from a proper food dispenser, and the base of the chicken coop will positioned about 18 inches off the ground. I have also been given 3 Fenn mk 4 rat traps, which I will place inside short tunnels made from sections of 200mm diameter drainage pipes, rats are naturally attracted to tunnels to use as cover, and these pieces of pipe will also keep the baited and armed traps well out of the reach of Oz’s inquisitive nose.

On a brighter note, Lois & I postponed the start of the 9 sq/mtr project and drove over to Sea palling with the intention of walking down the beach as far as Horsey Mere to see the Seals and seal pups currently ashore there. We really should have begun the woodworking, and garden tidying, but decided we needed to get out of Norwich for a few hours. Most of the photos that we took of the Seals & pups can be seen here: and now a day late I have begun cutting out the halving joints in the reclaimed pallet stringers to make the frames of the new planters.


A little optimisation

29 Dec

Lois & I had a very pleasant and quiet Christmas day, although I did go out on my Bicycle to get the final set of clues for the December Norwich AlleyCat sorted. I cycled about 20 miles across the lanes, cycle paths, alleyways and parks of Norwich, which resulted in almost all of the clues that I had previously planned for this Alleycat being reserved for another one in the springtime: my very pleasant exploration of the city turned up some new places, with new clues, a nice 2 mile out run and circular return back to the finishing point.

On Boxing Day Lois and I sat and re-evaluated our 9 sq/mtr project. A 15 minute wander around the garden with a tape measure revealed that we might not have enough room in certain areas to be as ambitious as we had previously planned: Shade from the stand of Oak, Ash and Sycamore at the bottom of the garden being the main reason for this rethink.

Our new plans will allowed us the opportunity to better utilise the space we have available, and the materials we already have to hand, along with cutting down the required labour to implement this whole project. A revision of the planters has reduce the next two to be built down from 1.5 mtr X 1.2mtr to 1.2 mtr X 1.2 mtr, and only two tiers at 20 cm increments. These will now be stepped from a rear corner, and at only two tiers high they will require less soil to fill them, but will maximise the area available in each tier for the growing vegetables. Less wood will be required, and therefore a smaller number of the larger than average pallets will be required, thus freeing this reclaimed pallet timber for other projects.

Because of these decisions, it has been necessary to revise the dimension drawings I have made, but this has now been completed. Alas logistics and Lois do not mix, and this has meant there is a slight cock-up in the Christmas arrangements that will cost me a whole day and I will not be able to begin the woodworking properly until Thursday.

Last summer I built and panelled the frames to make up the Walk-in chicken run, but timing  of the kitchen refurbishment sort of stopped us putting it in to position, and by the time we had the kitchen back under control again, it was rather too late in the season and would have been uneconomical for us to have stocked with Point of Lays (Pols), as they would have stopped laying in the Autumn but they would have still required feeding through the none productive winter months.

Careful positioning of the Walk-in Chicken run will allow us a slightly larger growing area towards the bottom of the garden, but this area will be almost fully shaded due to the mature trees just beyond the fence. Research has revealed that we can still grow the vegetables that we want to, but yields may be slightly lower. This area is also a little damper than the rest of the garden and so irrigation will be less of a problem, but the risk of rot and other plant diseases will be increased.

The chicken run has been designed with an access doorway wide enough for a wheelbarrow to enter easily, but I have also planked the pen panels up 2 feet from ground level. The idea behind this is that the chickens will be better protected from the cold prevailing NE winds that we often experience, and also that they will not be able to see Oz playing in the garden, and he will have less chance of seeing them and becoming too interested in them: he is a rescue dog that has little experience of livestock, and he is not yet stock broken..

I also acquired a mains electric fence energiser, about 50 insulators, and a 100 metre roll of 9 mm polypropylene rope with wire strands woven into it. A lot of my friends are smallholders and proper poultry keepers (not these well meaning amateur urbanite ex-battery hen rescuers) and the advice that they have given me regarding poultry keeping has been invaluable, and so I would like to pass on a little of their knowledge regarding electric fences. Electric poultry netting has been designed to keep chickens in, and not predators out. Electric fencing will do absolutely no harm to Dogs & Cats, but will install a healthy respect of their proximity to your chickens in the pen, and a single electrical wire strand woven into a larger diameter rope will allow them to see it and remember it. Protecting Poultry with an electric fence from Foxes has to be given some careful thought, and the top of the pen must not be forgotten. The electric fencing needs to be constantly live, as your birds will attract more determined attacks from Foxes at night when you are not around, even if the birds are locked away in a coop. These low cost electric fence energisers that are marketed as suitable for urban and back garden poultry, and are popular with those first time poultry keepers who rescue ex-batts are next to useless, because a sensor shuts them down automatically at night to preserve battery power; normally only D Cell torch batteries. It is a much wiser decision and more economical in the long run to invest the extra money in a proper agricultural or equine 12 volt DC, or mains electric fence energiser.

Talking the talk, but not walking the walk.

23 Dec

I hate December; no I mean it, I really do hate December. I suffer with depression, and was incorrectly treated for this condition 7 years ago, which has permanently altered my body chemistry and made things worse, especially through the Winter months and the shorter hours of day light. I am still chemically imbalanced due to a prescription of Lithium based antidepressants and because of a clerical error I received between 12 and 24 times the usual normal dosage, it has taken my body 5 years to expel this Lithium, but I now have a serious condition where Vitamin C is barely retained by my body and it is essential that I take a minimum of 300mg of Vitamin C (3 x100mg) daily; if I don’t, I crash down into near suicidal bouts of depression. I know that my hatred of December is a psychological condition, and especially the 3 weeks before the winter solstice, which are like a physical and very real, high brick wall that I have to walking alongside, and when the solstice arrives it is like finding an open gate in the wall through which I must pass to save myself; this year has not been any different, and I am now glad the solstice has passed, and my mood has lifted significantly over the last 24 hour period. I am stood here with a cup of tea and smoking a hand rolled cigarette, looking out over the garden and its mess which I’ve yet to clear up, and wondering why my self pity has allowed me to lose the previous 3 weeks when I could have achieved so much with just a few hours of effort:  it is the same every year and it is an annual cycle that I am desperate to break.

So far I’ve been talking the talk regarding this 9 sq/mtr project, now it is time to begin walking the walk. The dimension drawings for the new stepped 3 tiered garden planters are complete, I have sufficient reclaimed pallet timber stripped and denailed standing on two trestles in the garden which have been sheeted down to prevent the wood getting wet. I have enough wood screws, glue and preservative to make the first two rear support frames, and panel them in, and I now have an electrical supply in the garden workshop to power the tools with; it’s time to get on and do!

Making the planters is only one aspect of the preparation work required for this project, there is also the logistical need to shift around 7 tons of soil, gravel and manure, along with planning the companion growing sq ft gardening approach. Crops have to be thought about, planting, growing and harvesting have to be planned, compatibilities and incompatibilities have to be considered, and no doubt there are things we have not yet even thought about. So I am going to get the next few days of the Christmas festive season over and done with, and on  Monday the 26th I will begin cutting timber and getting on with it. I will begin with manually cutting the horizontals to fit the verticals to on the rear frameworks….. I know that Lois has bought me a new Ryobi cordless circular saw for Christmas to replace the one I ruined when we refurbished the kitchen and replaced the bathroom door. ….. bring it on!

23 Dec

Christmas is upon us, and I for one have generally avoided the now usual consumer chaos and mayhem, and seeing these hordes of Norwichites in action in the city centre has convinced me that there is a valid reason for adding contraceptive chemicals to the Colonel’s secret “finger lickin’ good” recipe, Big Macs and Burger King burgers, and other fast foods.

We have bought a new vegetable book from Waterstones, and this will be helpful as we plan the planting of the planters. The dimension drawings have been completed, and I now know exactly where each of the joints in the timbers is going to be. I shall be again utilising halving joints throughout the frameworks; not exactly the world’s strongest woodworking joint, but one of the simpler ones to initially make, and backed up with foaming polyurethane wood glue and galvanised wood screws they will be more than adequate for my needs.

Last spring I dug out the gravel and ballast pathway that ran for 20 metres down our garden. It was playing hell with the lawnmower, and I had broken one ceramic plant pot and cracked a couple of others with small stones flicked up by the blades whizzing around at a great rate of knots.  I dug the path up to obtain the stones and gravel to re-lay the few slabs behind the workshop; Many years ago a previous occupant of our house had laid these slabs straight onto the soil albeit levelled, and the slabs were beginning to move about a bit and presented us with a couple of trip hazards, 2 or 3 slabs had also cracked and needed replacing.  Over a couple of weekends I dug this pathway out to a depth of about 20cm moving about 4 cu/mtr of material and gaining almost enough flints, chalks and gravel to fill a set of footings I had dug out to replace the slabs upon. The ratio was around 75% ballast to 25% topsoil. Initially I filled this trench with a lot of 2-3 year old Leylandii brash from a pile at the bottom of the garden, and covered this with a few centimetres of soil. Over the last few months this has settled down, and I now need approx 7 cm more soil to bring the pathway up to its original height or about 1.4 cu/mtr, which at an average soil density of 2.65 is about 3 ¾ tons before reseeding it with a mixture of grass seed, White & Purple Clover, and Chamomile, maybe even a little Feverfew and sprinkling of other aromatic leaf herbs.  I have been offered about 2 tons of turf removed from a lawn and replaced with decking, and this turf would be ideal for helping to fill this trench in, before adding a few wooden (reclaimed pallet timber) stepping stone (pads). I also need about 3 tons of manure to top dress our existing 8 sq/mtr vegetable patch, along with all the other flower borders, and various pots, troughs and planters. I can have as much horse and donkey manure that I want from a local sanctuary about 5 miles away, but unfortunately my car has been off the road for a couple of weeks due to a front suspension coil spring breaking; I’ve replaced the coil spring but I can’t get the bloody drive shaft back in. I have this need to be back up and running so that I can move these bulky materials. Up until now material movements for my business have been relatively straight forward; my local steel supplier will cut to length for free for me, and with my bicycle and trailer I can comfortably move 24 X 1 metre lengths of 10 mm X 30 mm flat bar, and 6 x 1 metre lengths of 10 mm round bar. It is a little over 4 miles across the city, but the return journey means hauling my bike plus trailer up Ketts hill.

Just before midnight on the 21st of December, I took Oz out for a late night wander around the playing field at the back of our house; mainly to give him our usual nightly routine last play with the Nite Ize LED light ball before bed time, and there were literally millions of worms up at the surface on the 2 Football pitches and the Cricket pitch with a flock of several hundred Blackbird size birds (too dark to confirm the species) feeding upon them, along with maybe 100 Toads. I’ve never seen a sight like this at night before, and especially not in mid-winter so I have put it down to the extremely mild weather we’ve had over the last couple of days. The Toads must have been awakened by the milder weather from their winter hibernation in Lionwood some 200 metres away. Interestingly enough; currently it is the dark of the Moon phase at the moment, with the new moon rising on the 24th, and it was low tide at Lowestoft at 00.26 (the most easterly point of mainland Britain which is approx 25 minutes of a degree east of here), and with the winter Solstice at 05.30 this morning the Earth’s Northern Hemisphere was approaching its lowest point of annual declination. That coupled with the unseasonal warm spell has made a rather unusual set of circumstances that I just happened to go out in.

We have a few Ash logs from two felled trees scattered about the garden, along with two or three stray Oak logs. The Ash tree stump, which I had levelled off a few weeks ago has begun to sprout fungi, which I have yet to identify. This got me thinking about inoculating a few of these hardwood logs with some Mushroom spore impregnated pegs and hopefully producing several varieties of mushrooms for the table. An Internet search turned up a couple of suppliers of these impregnated pegs, and about a dozen different varieties of Mushrooms. Alas, these pegs are only available in bags of 100 of single varieties; what I really want is 10 pegs of 10 varieties.

It has occurred to me that I have not used our food smoker since the day that my friend:  Jonathan had put one of my arrows through the door of it. Lois & I love the mature deep flavours of smoked food, and as we have chosen to eat Duck for Christmas dinner I think I’ll get the smoker repaired and chop up a seasoned oak branch for sawdust for the smoker.

In the bleak mid winter:

22 Dec

Saturday 17th December 2011

It is now snowing here in Norwich, and so we have that ubiquitous covering of soggy slush, and even the dog doesn’t want to go out. I spent an hour so in the workshop servicing the ladies hybrid ready for the exchange with my friend, and then I retired to the sofa with a nice hot cup of tea and my sketch book, a 2H and an HB pencil and whiled away an afternoon making drawings of the new planters I would like to make for our 9 sq/mtr project. These sketches also incorporated rough layout planting plans, but I am sure that this will be discarded as Lois takes charge and control of this aspect. I then received an unexpected telephone call from a gentleman from Richmond in north Yorkshire.

One of my cycling passions is AlleyCats, and 4 months ago I took over the organisation and running of the what up until then had been the odd  irregular AlleyCat, and it is now my ambition to conduct one each month.

AlleyCats are informal (and technically illegal!) point to point bicycle races that pass through waypoints or checkpoints. However, here in Norwich we have adopted the open to all sociable bicycle treasure hunt format, and this is proving to be very popular and successful. Competitors entrants have ranged from 16-67 years of age, and these have used all of the common styles of bicycles: Single Speed, Fixie, road bikes, Tricross, Mountain bike, BMX, commuter, roadie, hybrid, Dutch, hand built bespoke small wheeled racing bike (Mike Burrows no less), recumbent, tricycle, and best of all a couple in their mid 20’s on a tandem towing a toddler in a child carrier trailer, and even a young student in her electric assist wheel chair.

I have organised and conducted 3 Alleycats so far: September, October and November, and I am currently planning the December AlleyCat. At the last post Alleycat social we as a group made three decisions and one is that we now charge £1 fee per entrant, and from this money I am allowed to buy one set of Silva Orienteering card punches and use the rest of the money collected to purchase a Scalextric slot car racing set. The Silva card punches will be used to mark the AlleyCat clue sheets as proof of passage through and unmanned checkpoint, and the scalextric set will be modified to include pedal powered racing.  I have been running a wanted add on Norwich Gumtree and the a telephone call I received from the gentleman in Richmond was regarding the Norwich AlleyCat being offered a full Scalextric slot car racing set, but I have to organise the dispatch and shipping to us here in Norwich: no problem as Cargo Cycles has a business account with Parcelforce.

Sunday 18th of December 2011.

By midnight last night our light sprinkling of slush has all but thawed, but the temperature has plummeted to below freezing, so that this morning everywhere was covered in a layer of thin brittle cat  ice. However, it has started to snow again and this time it is settling.

Our garden is a mess; I’ve got stuff spread about all over the place and I really need to tidy it up a bit. There is over a ton of reclaimed pallet timbers stacked up, a poultry pen that I made last summer in panel form leaning against the fence at the bottom of the garden. At the top end close to the house I’ve a couple of Black & Decker workmates out, and several old bicycles in various states of being cannibalised for hair brained schemes and projects of mine. About  ⅓ of our lawn area has been fenced off with green plastic mesh and fence pins to allow the Autumn reseeded section the opportunity to grow without being hammered by Oz running up and down and me walking over it. When viewed from the bedroom window our garden looks a right mess, fortunately it will only take me about an hour or so to make it tidier.

Another problem in our garden is Oz; he is a veritable dog shit producing machine, and the way he is going about it at the moment he must be pursuing a pre-Christmas production and productivity bonus. The only benefit being is that he restricts himself to the garden, and will not drop one when we are out and about. Usually the clean up process only takes a couple of minutes each day, but with the colder weather I have not kept up with this daily duty, which has meant a 30 minute long clearing up session out in the snow this morning, and you have guessed it ….. I have managed to step in the only unfrozen sloppy smelly one!

We are only 4 days away from the winter Solstice, which is at 5.30am on the 22nd of December this year, and I for one cannot wait for the longer hours of daylight to come, even if we cannot really perceive the change until about the middle of January; the two or three weeks running up to the Winter Solstice is an almost physical barrier for me and my deep yearning for more daylight; I really do want live my whole life in a perpetual month of June!

The planning of the new 3 tiered planters is coming along nicely with dimension drawings almost completed, but now there is some doubt as to where one of them will be positioned. Two of the planters will be positioned hard up against the fence on the east side of the garden between a 2 foot diameter Ash tree stump, and the beginning of the Leylandii hedge on that side, and I may have to remove a small and straggly Buddleia tree. These will be the first of the new planters to be made, so that at least gives us the opportunity of a little more time to think about the positioning of the 3rd one. I am designing and making these planters with a predicted 5-7 years life span, and that is one of the main reasons for using reclaimed timber. After some thought, I would better off not adding drainage stones into the planters: our garden soil is very free draining, and we did experience some moisture retaining and irrigation issues throughout last summer. I have a soil and stone mine at the bottom of the garden; it is really a big heap of material that was removed from the hole as the previous owner dug out a garden pond. This pond was filled in 2 years ago the easy way with bought in gravel, and a wooden decked area built on top of this; Tommy Walsh and BBC Groundforce still have a lot to answer for! It is my reckoning that there was originally 12-14 tons of topsoil in the heap, and so far I have already used about ⅓ of this filling the original 3 planters, and refilling a trench where a previous ballast & gravel path was in the garden. I have riddled out all of the soil I have used in the 12 months, and it has an approximate ratio of 2 parts gravel and flints to 3 parts topsoil. Fortunately I have other plans for this pile of burden that I am currently accumulating; ballasting the base of fence posts for the Chicken run being one of them.

I have got Lois reading an article on square foot gardening that I have downloaded via Google, while I rush around trying to repair the badly damaged rear wheel of the ladies hybrid bike, which just might have to be scrapped due to a very badly corroded 5 speed, free wheel assembly. The snow has all but thawed, and I am bloody cold, as I fiddle about with this bicycle in the workshop.

Starting to think carefully about our 9 sq/mtr

16 Dec

With the home-made liquid plant feed now ferckling away nicely in its plastic barrel, and with high hopes of its suitability, and potential performance it is time for me to begin thinking about the rest of this project.

They key elements will be good planning, tightly controlled management, and carefully considered decision making; but knowing me there will also be an element of “chuck it in and try it”.

Square foot gardening is a wonderful phrase, as it conjures up an almost romantic image of perfectly formed vegetables, quaintly growing harmoniously in wonderfully shaped and artistic tubs and pots dotted about a country cottage Rose garden. In reality is no better than intensive farming practiced on large scales by the large agri-businesses: High inputs, high maintenance, high outputs. Like a modern farm the management of our 9 sq/mtr will be the essential key element, but unlike a monoculture the diversity of crops we will be growing in a given area will probably present us with even more problems that need to be resolved; albeit on a much smaller scale. However, there are advantages and the main one of those is companion growing.

I am relatively new to companion growing, as in the past I have given very little thought to what plants are growing alongside each other and why they are there. OK, I have done the marigolds and nasturtium in rows next to my vegetables to attracted predatory insects to feed upon the parasites invading my plants, but companion growing is much deeper and a lot more involved than just that. The mineral and trace element take up by the crops from the soil has to be considered, and so does root spread, leaf canopy cover, growing periods, growing rates and yields. When you begin to look into all these variables it soon becomes a complicated and initially labour intensive affair. This labour input will decrease as the chosen companion plants grow and mature, and will in effect eventually create a semi self sustaining bio system.

The idea behind using a weed and urine based tea feed is that weeds take up the existing mineral and chemical content of the soil for use during their life cycle, as I do not want weeds competing for the resources that would be better utilised by my food crops. The utilisation of my urine also has much the same effect due to the minerals and elements being removed from my body by my kidneys and that will also include other chemical compounds that may not be available naturally in our garden. An additional advantage is that the local Fox population will be discouraged by the scent of my urine spread around the garden.  By making a tea from the weeds many of these minerals and elements will be readily available and convenient to use, and their reintroduction to the soil and plant take up will be faster than applying a slowly decomposing compost. The decomposed organic detritus remaining in the barrels can then be added to the compost heap or bin for incorporation into the soil at a later date.

With our intention of keeping chickens this will also add at least another dimension to the crops that we grow. Unused leaves and thinned out vegetables can go onto the compost heap, but that will take several months until these are decomposed enough to return to the soil as a humus rich mulch. Processing this waste though a chicken’s digestive track will speed up the process, but this brings with it other problems that have to be addressed. The chickens are a must as far as we are concerned; we both like to eat eggs, and we both like to eat chicken, so a mix of 4 laying hens, and 4 meat birds growing on seems to be the ideal mix for us. With a pen area of 9 sq/metres this allows us a stocking density of 8 birds. Other livestock that we are considering to keep include a high density stocked Quail unit, and both Rabbits and Guinea pigs in a semi deep litter cage system. The aim will be to feed all the livestock with vegetable waste and plants grown in the garden, and hopefully reducing the need to buy in foodstuffs to only those that contain necessary supplements.

As a teenager all those (35) years ago, I kept, bred and supplied Rabbits to the pet, and meat trades, and guinea pigs for the pet trade. I had a stock level continuously revolving around approximately 40-50 animals, and cleared an average weekly nett profit of £4.50. This time I will not be producing for profit, but for consumption and to cover overall project costs. I will have to crunch some numbers regarding the viability of housing, feeding, welfare and maintenance costs, before buying stock animals.

Now here is a thought for you all: How many different kinds of vegetables, pulses, fruit and fungi do you eat over the year?  And I don’t mean individual varieties of a particular fruit or vegetable such as 4 kinds of mushroom, 6 kinds of tomato, or 8 kinds of potato, etc. I like to describe myself as a strict Omnivore, and will eat just about anything that is edible and that means my diet consists of approaching 100 kinds of different fruit, vegetables pulses and fungi over a 12 month period, and yet like the majority of the population it is based upon a few stalwart staples that numbers around a dozen. Factor in the individual varieties and strains and this then becomes a substantial number.  With luck, Lois & I will be growing and eating approximately 30 different kinds of vegetables and fruit, and ideally we would like to be growing 50+. We have a neighbour who grows the vast majority of the vegetables that he eats. I suffer from bouts of depression, and I am convinced that my varied diet helps me to keep my depression in check. My neighbour on the other hand restricts the vegetable part of his diet to virtually just Potatoes, Carrots, Cabbages, cauliflowers, Brussels, Parsnips, runner beans and peas when in season, and he is a miserable old sod; where I have described by my friends to be closer to Tigger on speed.

Slightly off track.

16 Dec

Although it is now mid December, the days are short, and the weather is cold and damp, it has not curbed my enthusiasm for this 9sq/mtr project of ours. I have been busy making and painting pallet dismantling bars over the last couple days, and tomorrow I have an old ladies Falcon Explorer bicycle to service and make road worthy ready for a proposed 1 for 1 exchange with a student I know. She would like to swop her mans racing bicycle for this ladies hybrid/commuter bicycle, and if this exchange should go ahead it is a semi nil Nett gain for me. The number of bicycles on my personal (not the business) inventory will remain the same, and if I am completely honest I really do not want another bicycle cluttering up either the garden or garage; in fact I want less. So why I have I agreed to this exchange: Well, I have been admiring my friends bicycle for some time now, and I have even offered to purchase it from her. There is nothing special about this particular bicycle, it is a mass produced run of the mill bicycle that has been assembled from average components, and the currently value of this bicycle is around £30. However, it does have a set of straight front forks with zero rake and these forks have same size headstock stem and crown that my bicycle polo steed has.  My Bicycle polo steed is an old Universal brand MTB BSO that I have converted to suit me. Gone are the derailleur’s and gears, having been replaced with a crude single speed set up. The handlebars have been cut down; the left hand side by about 3 inches and the right hand side by about 8 inches. I am right handed, and this uneven handle bar length allows me to swing my polo mallet without accidentally catching the bars and thus causing me to crash. I have also replaced the 2 individual brake levers with a two-into-one Tricycle brake lever that works both the front and rear brakes on my steed, and I can now charge up and down the court knowing that I have two efficiently working brakes on this bicycle. The front wheel disc that I have made is to help prevent balls and mallets from damaging the front wheel. Why do I want to replace the standard curve forks that have a rake angle, for a pair of straight ones that have none? Because straight bicycle forks have several advantages: A shorter overall wheel base allowing tighter turn circles, a faster steering response and less distance for my steering hand to move, and a more direct feel of wheel position. The disadvantages: A much faster steering response that can make the steering feel very direct, but also very twitchy and the rear arc of the front wheel will be closer to my feet on the pedals during turns. I am already considered an accident waiting to happen by team mates, who think that this modification of mine will make me a real and constant disaster in the offing on the court.

What has all this got to do with my 9sq/mtr self sufficiency project?    Absolutely nothing; I just like rambling on about Bicycle Polo and my polo steed.

Back to; 9 sq/mtr.

The day length, and cold miserable and damp weather has slowed down some of work towards this endeavour, But I do have around 50 metres of stripped pallet timber on trestles and sheeted down so it is at least dry enough for me to mark out, cut to length and begin the gluing up and screwing down processes. This timber will become the frameworks for the additional 3 tiered stepped vegetable planters, but due to other features in our garden that we do not wish to disturb, the dimensions will be different to those of the existing planters. At least two of them will be 1.5 mtr in length X 1.2 mtr wide, with the steps at 20 cm increments. This will give us a planting and growing area on each of them of 1.8 sq/mtr, and not the 2.25 sq/mtr of the original vegetable planter.  Which all adds up to 5.85 sq/mtr, and so another 2.25 sq/mtr planter will be required to bring us up to the desirable 9sq/mtr. The location of this final planter will have to careful thought about, as we have already allocated another 9 sq/mtr of our garden space to the chicken coop and Walk in run, and both Lois and I want some space to grow flowers, shrubs and other plants, along with keeping the decked area for alfresco meals, entertaining friends and under taking project work on.

Although there is very little progress with the woodworking, there has been progression with another aspect of this project, and this is the production and use of natural based fertilisers and plant feeds. Last summer I experimented with comfrey, and weed tea plant feeds, and these proved to be exceptional. Like most gardeners and allotment keepers growing vegetables we have a compost heap; two actually. One a conical, bottomless plastic bin with a removable lid, and a second open to the elements compost heap, that is sheeted down from late autumn until springtime. This second heap consists mainly of Leylandii hedge trimmings that have been passed through the shredder, and then I have urinated on a regular daily basis upon this heap. During a garden party this heap was the allocated “gentleman’s convenience” and so it probably received approximately 30 litres of urine over the course of that evening. However, I had made a fundamental mistake with the location of this heap, and composting results were well below what I expected after 12 months of decomposition; I had placed the heap on a section of concrete hard standing, and without contact with the soil the rotting down process had been hindered. As mentioned in the previous post I have a real concern over our water consumption, and the bill this generates, to that end I have made it my duty to urinate on the garden at every available opportunity. To begin with that meant spending a penny on the Leylandii compost heap, but as winter approached I broke open this heap, and spread approximately half of its partially decomposed mass around the base of the tree trunks that make up the hedge on the west side of the garden. Over the last few weeks I have been peeing into a 10 litre plastic bucket and every 3 or 4 days I have been pouring this onto the mulch under hedge. To this I have also been adding 1 or 2 litres of the now six month old comfrey tea, basically to use this up so that the 50 litre drum that it resides in is available to use again in March or April. In the meantime I am cold brewing a mixed weed tea over winter, which I hope will be suitable for use when the new growing season begins.

This new mixture of plant food that I am making is a bit of an experiment, the base ingredients are the weeds pulled from our garden, 5 litres of my urine, the waste from my home brewing escapades, and the water left over from steam cooking our vegetables. The 5 litres of urine is already in the barrel, weeds are being added on a weekly basis, and the remaining water from our steamed vegetables is being added on almost daily basis. If previous results are anything to go by, it will good stuff, and our plants will flourish.