Archive | February, 2012
27 Feb

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 a 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, 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 support 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: http://overthegate.myfreeforum.org/about25647.html 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.

It’s now becoming embarrassing!

26 Feb

It’s now becoming embarrassing!
It is now the end of February and I still have not really got this 9 sq/mtr project properly underway yet: it just seems to be one thing after another at the moment. I’ve sold more Cargo Cycles Pallet Dismantling Bars in the first 2 months of this year than I did in the whole of last year. I thought I was being clever last week by making a large batch buffer stock of them, and 3 days later I am already almost sold out. Making another batch will have to wait a day or two  because I have now got a planned maintenance contract in a local factory which means time away from my workshop. Then we received the notification that we qualify for a 100% grant for 200mm of loft insulation from the government, Norwich City council and EDF energy …. Which was very timely at the end of winter!
However, we have to make provision for the installation contractors by lifting the existing wooden loft flooring by 200mm to accommodate this new thicker layer of insulation.
Most people buy and fit proprietary legs made for the job or make some wooden riser legs themselves and hold them in place with steel straps and screws:


After some research and price comparison I have chosen a different method. The proprietary legs at a price of £16.95 for 12 turned out to be a very uneconomical option and at only 175mm high they were 25mm too short, and the wooden pieces of   2“ X 2 “ X 10 inch and metal straps was ½ the price, but when I looked into the economics of both methods I have decide to go a different route.
Although the method we have chosen is literally priced exactly halfway between the two options shown above it is going to be more labour intensive: However, in the long-term it will reduce our heating bills even further and save us a greater amount money that would have otherwise been spent on ever escalating fuel bills.
We are going to make 200mm high plywood cells and install them onto the joists. The plywood and tile batten has set me back £114, and glue, screws and nails another £18. But as the insulation and installation is completely free of charge, we believe that us spending £132 on the materials and putting in the 20 -30 hours of my time into this project is going to pay us dividends in the years come.
Six sheets of 2440mm X 1220mm X 9mm thick spruce construction grade plywood have been ripped down across the sheet to make 1220 mm long X 200 mm high partition boards to run the full length of the roof joists. I originally wanted to rip the plywood down along its length, but after a practice run with an 8 feet long pallet deck plank we found we could not get this through the loft access hatch. So I’ve ended up doing twice the cutting that I initially wanted to. I’ve also chopped 24 metres of tanalised tile batten into 300mm lengths, and 24 metres into 150mm lengths. These noggins will be screwed to the joist to fix the plywood sections in place. With some lateral thinking employed, this will now be pre drilled for the joist screws and fixed onto the plywood cell boards with 20 X 3.5mm screws , 30 mm pins and D3 exterior grade PVA wood glue to make up sub assemblies that will be very convenient to handle, along with being quick and easy to install.
So Lois and I spent 3 hours today ripping down the plywood and chopping the noggins. With just a handful of pallet bars left in stock I have decided to have a day off from welding and fabricating tomorrow and will set up the pillar drill in the workshop for drilling the fixing screw holes into the noggins and get these done before disappearing off fishing for the rest of the day: Lure and deadbait fishing for the resident Pike at the confluence of the rivers Wensum and Yare.
Ripping down the plywood:


Lois has several trays of seedlings already growing on the windowsill in the spare bedroom: Yellow Tomatoes, micro Tomatoes, Purple Basil. Tiger Chilli Peppers on the veg side, and the following flowers varieties; Antirrhinums (Snap-Dragons), Alyssum, dark crimson Sunflowers, Giant Sunflowers, and Sweet Peas that are part of our companion growing programme, offering ground cover, and to encourage Bees and other insects into our garden, along with giving us some colour and fragrance.     And a couple of photos of our stepped from the corner, 3 tiered flower planter now that the spring bulbs are beginning to show through:
Last October;

This afternoon;

Seed circle and garden pathways

19 Feb

Many gardening and smallholding website forums across the Internet have a seed circle. I am a regular contributing member of the www.overthegate.com forum, and I am also member of the seed circle on this forum. However, I am not a very good member of this seed circle because the first time the bag of seeds arrived with me, I forgot to post them on to the next recipient, and they sat on a shelf at our home for over three weeks before I was politely reminded to pass them on.
A seed circle is a wonderful and inexpensive thing to belong to. Basically a bag of various seeds is posted from one member to the next. When the bag arrives with you, you take what you want to plant in your garden, then you add seeds that you have not used from your stocks (providing they are still in date) and then post them on to the next recipient…. but please; If you do join a seed circle do not follow my very poor example, but post them on promptly to the next person on the list.
For us to grow Lois has selected the following from the seed circle bag; Cress, Hyssop, Chicory, Salsify, Mizuma oriental Lettuce, and French climbing Beans, and before posting the bag on to Lincolnshire we added: Dalmatian beans, Leeks, Onions, French marigolds, and Beetroot seeds (I forget which varieties).
We have a problem in our garden, which will become worse because of the 9sq/mtr project, and keeping chickens; it is something that I need to address and the sooner I do something about it, the better. The good thing about it is that it will consume some of the many metres of reclaimed pallet timber I currently have racked up in the garden.
During the spring of 2011, we had to lift half of the slabbed patio because a previous owner of our house had originally laid the slabs on bare earth. This required us to lift the existing slabs, dig out some footings and fill them with gravel & ballast so that the slabs could be re-laid level. Being a bit of a cheap skate when it comes to projects like this, and needing to address another problem in the garden we decided to combine the two projects. This secondary project was to remove a currently over grown gravel & ballast pathway from the edge of the patio that ran down the full length of the garden. This path was over grown with creeping weeds, would not sustain the growth of grass, and the lawn mower invariably flicked up stones from it when mowing the lawn.
The grand plan was to dig out this pathway and riddle the larger pieces of gravel and stone from it, and then use these for the footings for the patio. I acquired two stainless steel hand carried shopping baskets that previously belonged to a large retail chain….. No, I didn’t steal them but relocated them from a ditch on Mousehold Heath a mile or so down the road from where we live. We used these baskets to riddle the larger stones from the burden I dug out of the pathway, and it was then I hit on the idea of filling the trench with some of the woody Leylandii brash from the pile at the bottom of the garden. After back filling with the previously riddled soil, Lois and more frequently Oz and I trampled up and down this pathway all Summer, Autumn and Winter. Now in mid February I can see that we have compacted the soil and we are back at the shallow trench but water logged stage again. Fortunately we still have in the region of 8 to 10 tons of topsoil piled up in a heap at the bottom of the garden and so over the next couple of weeks I’ll be again filling this trench with another thin layer of well rotted Leylandii brash and a covering of topsoil. Before I reseed this with grass, I will be laying a lot of narrow pallet stringer off cuts to act as mini sleeper style steppings. With the chicken pen and compost heaps at the bottom of the garden this path will again receive a lot of traffic from us, and especially wheel barrow traffic this year. The pallet stringer timbers will only be a temporary measure that will be employed for 1 maybe 2 years as I seek an alternative, but hard wearing low cost solution.
The walk-in-run for the chicken coop was made during the early part of last summer, and we had the intention of populating it with 4 layers, and 4 meat producing birds, but events overcame us with an increase in orders for Cargo Cycles products, and involvement in a disastrous joint venture project.  A couple of minor wear & tear issues around the house resulted in us undertaking a part refurbishment of our bathroom and a full refurbishment of our kitchen.  So to cut a long story short about how I have come to have seething hatred of building trade contractors it is sufficient to say that Lois & I did not embark upon chicken keeping last year.
The walk-in-run is 90% complete as a flat pack ready to assembly unit, I only have to fix the wire mesh in place, obtain some fence posts, dig the holes and install the posts before final assembly of the run and then populate it with chickens.

Making the walk-in-run for the chickens from reclaimed pallet timbers: A complete S-B-S photo how to will follow in a few weeks time when I have erected it in position:


And how the walk-in-run has been stored in a self assembly flat pack form at the bottom of the garden all winter:

I bought the chicken coop as a house warming present for Lois when we moved here in August 2010, and it has remained vacant ever since. However, before we press it into use I am going to make a steel frame to stand the coop upon and lift it 18 inches off the ground. This will have the additional benefit of providing a few extra square feet of run area which will be covered by the coop itself and should provide a covered daytime perching and dust bathing area. Being well off the ground will hopefully dissuade rats, mice and other vermin from making homes in the pen.
I really do have a lot of work to be getting on with regarding this project, and to make matters worse for myself I have promised Lois that I will make a new corner table for raising plants on for our conservatory, along with a foldaway potting bench; time to get my skates on, elbows greased, and finger out methinks

Late January to mid February

18 Feb

It has been four weeks of consistently cold weather, I am not faring as well as I use to; this year I have really begun to feel the cold for the first time in my life, and I have also pulled a muscle in my back; so I am in pain, and my mobility has been reduced.
Nothing has been physically done to our 9sq/ mtr project during this time, both the cold weather and work has held me back. The Pallet Stripping Bar sales have increased significantly during this period; no doubt because of the cold weather and people stripping old pallets for firewood, so most of my energy has been directed at making and painting batches of pallet bars.
Planning work for the 9sq/mtr is making progress, and we now have a planting chart mapped out, and more or less know what we will be planting first, and I have collected about another ton of well rotted donkey & horse manure ready to fill the new planters, but Lois wants this load of manure for dressing the existing planters, borders and veg plot. However, the sanctuary has plenty enough for me to collect at my leisure.
Other stuff that has been going on in our lives includes a very successful January Norwich AlleyCat; with not a bad turnout out for a cold albeit dry night, and everyone involved had a good time. The new format that I have adopted for the AlleyCat of nine Silva punch control points, nine clues to solve and two tasks to complete is proving to be relatively easy to plan and set up, and the riders really like the mix as it gives the variety for those who wish to pedal furiously between points and then sprint to the finish, along with those who wish to complete the whole course at a more sedate and social pace. Although I will be adapting this format slightly for the February Norwich Alleycat ; 7 Silva punch checkpoints,   7 letters to collect for an anagram forming a 7 letter word, and only 1 task .
Lois and I have also become volunteer stewards for the Maddermarket theatre here in Norwich. We look up on it as our small and almost insignificant support for the performing arts, but if we are honest it is because we get to see the shows for free. We have to start work about 45 minutes before the performance begins, and finish our assigned work about 45 minutes after the end. Our jobs entail selling programmes, ushering the Theatre goers to their seats, and manning the fire points next to the fire exits during the performances, selling Ice creams, generally assisting people during the interval, and then litter picking and tidying up after the performance. Having unpaid volunteer stewards in these positions is in my opinion much better than paying people to do a half assed job of it, and we get to enjoy the show. ….. It does have its fringe benefits though: clear plastic half pint and pint drinks containers (I cannot bring myself to call them plastic beer glasses). I normally buy disposable  plastic beakers for mixing cellulose and enamel paints with thinners in before spraying something I have made in the workshop, and these disposable beer containers are suitable for this job, we are also going to be using them as seedling pots for the vegetables that will be planted in our 9 sq/mtrs. So with a little careful planning and rotation we can give these plastic beer beakers that we are collecting from the theatre a 3 task or more lifespan; and it helps reduce the volume of waste in the theatre’s wheelie bins!
The snow began thawing last weekend; I say snow as we only had about 3 inches of the damn stuff and as usual Norwich ground to halt. However, it has gone now and the days have become noticeably warmer, but we did have 5 nights of hard frost with temperatures swinging from minus 7⁰ C  to plus 8⁰ C and that large range of difference sort of kick started a few things growing …. Most noticeably the section of the lawn that I had reseeded last October.
With this warmer weather, and lengthen day light Lois has begun her part of this project, but I am behind schedule and will have to get myself into gear pretty sharpish. She has begun getting the seeds together and has set off chitting about 1 dozen seed potatoes, along with starting off the slips of Sweet Potato.
Sweet Potato slips ready for planting in the garden are extremely expensive to buy: anywhere between £1.25 and £14.99 each….. Yes, that is correct; we have seen Individual Sweet Potato slips on sale for £14.99 each. Sweet Potato slips are not difficult to cultivate, just time consuming. Lois is chitting 4 Sweet Potatoes for planting out, and we expect to get anywhere between 20 and 40 viable slips from them. We have deliberately bought 4 small Sweet Potatoes for chitting from 4 different shops over 4 weeks; Lidl, Aldi, Tesco and the local Co-op. The Idea being that although they are sold as eating Sweet Potatoes we know we can use them for producing slips and hopefully they will all be unrelated tuber stock.