Allotment kick-start…!

After spending months transporting manure to the plot, planning what we’ll be growing and digging 2/3 of the area, we’ve finally started setting out and planting for this season. My target of finishing the digging by Christmas wasn’t exactly met but 2/3 isn’t bad and this will give us enough space to grow a lot of vegetables.

The day before this session at the plot, we went over to Dundry Nursery and bought seeds, potatoes and onions to put in over the next few weeks. It’s a really nice nursery and very near to the little airport, with propeller planes flying over every few minutes! The boys loved that + the large blue and green parrot which they have there.

I’d made a list of the most disease-resistant potato varieties from their website (very useful btw), but two of the second earlies had already sold out (Fabula and Milva) but we did get the Victoria main crop variety. We also picked up Maris Peer (2nd early) and Nadine (2nd early), which we’re chitting on various window sills, ready for planting in a few weeks.

We’ve also been reading up on the whole potato process but every author seems to have a different version of the timings. Monty Don seemed to have the best approach, which is just adapt the planting to the weather. He does set out some fairly precise planting tips, which also seem sensible.

Anyway, that was a good trip out in the new car and that late afternoon I went up to the plot and was digging for a straight hour until it got dark. I got some nice sunset, bird and moon images and it was a brilliant time in the peace and quiet.

The next sunny and warm day (and it’s late February!!) was spent for a couple of hours at the plot, digging, trans-planting raspberry plants, setting out spaces, aligning raised beds, shifting logs, scattering pot ash. The boys were amazing and very patient and helpful. Jamie was raking the ground which now looks brilliant and Jac was digging around and collecting water!

Both boys were also painting the shed and Claire managed to finally get our plot number painted on there, which is one of the requirements of the allotment (having the plot number displayed).

Defining the areas has really helped us get an idea of what we have to do and it makes it all more doable. There is now only a couple of hours digging left to complete the main potato/onion/leek growing area and enough space to the side to experiment with the three sisters approach, where beans are grown up corn, with pumpkins grown between. Lots of wild and other flowers will be going in to help pollination and more edging and plot defining to be done!

Can’t wait to get up there again. Just hope my back stays strong! : )


Log burning experiments…

The great thing about spending time at home is that I can carry out all sorts of little science experiments and observations about the things around us. The latest one was about log burning and internal temperatures.

I wanted to know how long it takes for the internal temperature to go up, using the wood burner. So, this morning, after a cold night, the temperature was 17.8 degrees and after an hour of the fire being on, this went up by 1 degree.

8:30          17.8 degrees

9:30          18.8 degrees

10:00        19.8 degrees

10:30        20.4 degrees

10:40        20.8 degrees

So, after the initial hour when the stove was heating up and increasing its output, the temperature went up by 1 degree every 30 minutes, so in just over 2 hours, it went up by 3 degrees.

The other thing was to work out how many fires the pile of logs by the stove would give us. My first guess was about 1 week, but now i’ve worked it out properly, it works out as 16 days! Each fire uses 6 cm of logs (about a row) and 12 logs per row.

Once the fire is on a up to a good temperature, I only need to put on a single log at a time to keep it going.


Insulation, temperatures and stove…

Some observations about heating, insulation and the stove…

The difference between the inside and outside temperatures last year before started to use the stove was 9 or 10 degrees. We would get the temperature up to the low 20’s in the evening with the stove on, then in the morning, it would be as low as 16 or 17 degrees, meaning quite a large overall drop during the night.

So far this year, before we just lit the first fire last night, the temperature difference between inside and outside was something like 12 or 13 degrees. The outside temperature was around 6 degrees for a couple of days in the morning, while inside it was around 19 degrees, giving a 13 degree difference. This was after two very cold days, with clear nights.

Since last winter, we have had the loft hatch replaced with a new and much less draughty one, had the double glazing replaced with new and had the external insulated render installed. The hypothesis is that more heat will be retained within the house and for longer periods. I also hope that less heat will need to be produced in order to raise the temperature inside (due to less heat escaping and less cold air entering).

Last night was the 1st fire of the year. The temperature was 21.6 when we went to bed and in the morning, it was 19.2 degrees, giving a 2.4 degree drop over the 8 or 9 hours with a clear night. The outside temperature this morning was 9 degrees, giving a 10 degree difference.

So, the difference seems to be around 10 degrees still but the temperature drop was only 2.4 degrees, compared to last year when it was something like 6 degrees. Seems like progress but we haven’t had the really cold weather yet!

The other thing i’ve noted is the amount of wood which we just used, out of the stack by the stove. For the 4 hour fire last night, we used about 1/7 of the whole stack, meaning about 7 days (1 week) worth of fires, burning between low and medium heat.


Jamie & winter…

I was talking to Jamie the other day about the seasons and how it’s coming up to Autumn, which would then turn to winter. I asked what he was looking forward to about Winter (trying to put a positive spin on things!). It took him about a second to say Christmas!

We started to go through all of the reasons why winter is actually a pretty good season.

Log fires: One of my favourites. This year, I worked out how much wood we used from the previous year and ordered that much in early spring. It’s all been chopped and stacked since April and we should have enough to last till March 2012. Log fires are awesome and really raise the spirits on a crap winter day.

Jamie and Jac were loving coming down from having a bath and standing in front of the stove while getting dry. Jamie even asked me about getting the fire lit in the middle of summer so he could do that.

Insulated render: Now we’ve got the whole side and most of the rear of the house insulated, as well as the loft hatch re-done, the heat we do make by the radiators and stove should be kept in the house for longer. We’ve also had new windows front and back which has already made a difference. This should make the cold weather easier to live with.

The boys birthdays: Jamie’s 5th at the end of October then Jac’s 3rd at the end of January. Always lots of fun and breaks up the season each side of Christmas.

Halloween: Lots of potential for fun and excitement, as well as creative ideas for making things. Walking around with spooky lanterns and torches in the garden. Pumpkin pie (using pumpkins from the allotment – not this year but hopefully next!) and ales. Yum.

Claire’s birthday: Last but certainly not least. The middle of February signals the approach of Spring and brighter and warmer times. A good way to finish off the season!


Firewood action…!

Elcombe Firewood just delivered the first of 2 wood deliveries, each will be 3 M3, which in old money is roughly 1.5 tons. The problem with working in tons instead of a metric space measurement is that the weight is largely determined by the moisture content of the wood, rather than the actual wood itself, given that water is fairly heavy.

*above: all the free wood so far, cut, split and stacked.

So, we’re getting a total of 6 M3, which is roughly 3 tons. During the very cold spell in the winter this last year, we used more than 2 tons (4 M3), with another .05 tons (1 M3) either side, so this time, i’m getting in what should be the right amount, plus hopefully another 2 M3 made up of scavenged and free wood from various sources…

We’ve also been beavering away collecting loads of free wood from various places and creating spaces for all the new wood!

1) Alney Island tree area – contacts at work helped with collecting various felled trees which were being managed as part of the annual management of the area. Lots of ash branches.

2) My main contact has a tree surgeon friend who he does jobs for every now and again. He helped out with a boot full of various part-seasoned wood.

3) While we were at Crickley Hill, there were a series of trees being pruned and cut back. I asked the tree surgeon if I could have a boot of some of the smaller pieces and he agreed! A half boot full of good sized tree pieces.

4) A final load (which must be a total of 1 M3) from my ‘contact’s’ tree surgeon friend. This is made up of about 8 rounds of field maple, each about 40KG and 0.4 metres across!

So, maybe a total of 2 M3 of free wood and 6 M3 of bought hard wood.


Wood delivery & stepping logs…!

So we’ve had half of the wood delivered and have already nearly got through splitting it and stacking it.

The van arrived and just tipped all the logs onto the pavement. My Mum was also up for birthday celebrations and helped shift logs, as well as mind the boys. It took about an hour to wheel barrow the logs into the back garden and we’ve just been splitting and stacking logs whenever we get a chance.

I also arranged most of the logs I got from my contact at work, around the base of the apple tree, to form a series of stepping logs. This also makes it easier for the boys to climb into the tree!

We’ve got the next delivery of the last 3 M3 of logs this Friday, which should last all winter and some of the next as well!


Crickley Hill sunshine…!

Claire is taking two days off work this week and i’m taking the Wednesday off, so we have 3 days for a mini holiday! First day is a trip to Crickley Hill as it was clear and bright. Spring is in the air and the plants are starting to come back to life.

We had a great couple of hours there, with lots of exercise, fresh air and fun! We had a walk through the woods and the boys had loads of fun trying to protect their castle from the invading grasshoppers (Claire and I). That’s a reference to the film Bugs Life!

There were also some tree surgeons cutting back the line of trees along the entrance road and I asked if I could take some of the wood. They said yes and on the way out I loaded the boot up!


Wood stored and ready to go…!

Ok, all the logs are officially stored and ready to go.

There’s a smaller stack to the right of the back door which nicely defines the side of the walkway to the garden and there’s a larger stack between the water butt and the potting table. There are before and after pics above for effect!

The last job related to the storing of the wood is to get Claire’s Dad to cut a couple more corrugated iron metal sheets for the roofs of the last logs stores. This will help strengthen them and keep the rain off. I’ve designed them into an undulating form, in a series of mono-pitched roofs, which runs along the 4 stores.


Wood update…

Lots of wood sorting while ‘Uncle Jo’ was staying with us for a few days. The idea was to get all of it chopped and then stacked, but we only got one session in, as it rained the rest of the time!

We got part of the way through it and managed to start a smaller stack by the back door. This will be another 50cm taller, with the last main pile around the back between the potting table and the water butt. Most of it is still going to be in the log stacks by the fence, which is opposite the back door.

Also, R.I.P. my chopping block! We were chopping away and it just started to split apart. It’s basically totally dry through and was just splitting and lined with fungus and mould, from being outside for so long with water and mushrooms on it! never mind, now I can use that on the fire. : )


House jobs…

Over the last couple of days, there’s been a fair bit of progress in the house, with lots of small but useful jobs being done…

– The King size and double beds have been swapped over, meaning the king size bed is now in the larger boys room and the double is in our smaller bedroom at the back. This’ll work better particularly for the smaller room.

– Final wood store built and loaded with logs. I also chopped up a pile of logs which were on the large side and swept up the area.

– The acrylic shower door was trimmed at the base so it’s even all the way along. This meant I could also fit the plastic strip which stops leaks out of the shower!

– The three shelves in the boys room were fixed up.

– The metal blind in the kitchen has been taken down and the area behind and around it cleaned up and de-moulded!

– We’ve also started cleaning the floor of the bathroom and getting all the small flecks of paint off + the masking tape which I originally put down to mark out the outline of the sink unit, but which stuck hard to the lino.

– Fixed up two supports for the worktop in the kitchen, which replaces the unit which was taken out.

– Claire stuck up white sticky back plastic on the kitchen door middles and went to Wilkos for some red feature wall paint.

Jobs left to do in the bathroom (which have to be done before we start on finishing the living room) include:

– Final grout around bath and shower

– Paint touching up around edges

– Order and fit handle for shower door

– Sealing around bath panel base and floor cleaning

One final push and we’ll be there!


Shower door (fun) + log store…

While Claire’s endlessly helpful Mum was here over the weekend, I managed to get on with a couple of jobs which had been holding things up a bit. The first was fixing the acrylic shower door in place and also building another log store.

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It took a few hours to do the door, mainly because it all had to be measured quite accurately and I really didn’t want to ruin a whole sheet of acrylic! It’s all up now but will have to make a small adjustment to one of the hinges + fit the door knob. The boys also loved playing with the hardboard packaging for the door with their cars, using it as a hill.

I also got another log store built, with just the metal roof needed from Claire’s Dad. I’m doing a series of alternating mono-pitched roofs which will drain to the sides of each store. The rest of the logs will be stacked in a row along the kitchen side of the house, opposite the log stores.

It seems we’re getting a bit more done every week and we’re gearing up for this winter, with the logs and insulation stuff we’re organising.


Wood delivery (1 day early)…

Ok, this is very exciting…

We’ve just had the first ton of wood delivered…a day early! It’s not a problem as i’d already cleared a space for it, but I do still have to finish off the last 2 stores, made from the crate I just picked up.

The wood stores won’t hold all the wood (maybe only half), but it’ll mean there isn’t a massive pile of wood stacked against the walls, which could lead to damp inside the house. I’m picking Claire up from work then we’re off to B&Q to get the final pieces of support timber to finish the stores.

The boys also seem to be excited about helping to stack the wood and love the wheelbarrow! So, the last delivery is tomorrow at noon.