Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Report of our solar production in 2012

We have two solar PV (electricity producing) systems one to power batteries to run the house and a second larger system which feeds into the grid (and earns us money!)
The inverter on the battery system is rated at 1.7 KVA and the panels at 1.6 KW. Our larger grid tied system is rated at 3.8 KW
I have just done the sums for this year and the production after losses (at the export meter) of the smaller system was 398 KWh and the larger system (grid tied) was 3100 KWh we do not export from the smaller system. The total generated from the smaller (battery) system measured at the output from the panels is 4077 KWh from the date of installation 08/03/2008 or about 815 KWh per year - there are large losses if you use batteries to store the electricity but it means we can use it after dark.
So electricity that we bought from the grid in 2012 is 1402 KWh
Total electricity generated at mains voltage is about 3498 KWh  at the moment I cant record how much of the solar mains electricity from the larger system we use ourselves, hopefully next year.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Apple processing - rings, juice and fruit leather.

Cutting up windfall apples to make into juice, stewed apples, apple rings and fruit leather.
The juice is preserved in the freezer or in jars using the usual bottling method which means heating the juice - changes the flavour a little but does work!

Apple rings drying above our stove - I rate this as the top way of sustainable apple preservation.   They will last for a year easily and make good snacks as well as additions to baking or re-hydrated for stewed apple puddings 

Fruit leather - a thin layer of fruit mush dried will keep for ages in an airtight jar.   We have experimented and rate a mix of apple a raspberry (sieved ) as the best.   Add a little sugar but not too much as the leather goes sticky if over sugared.   The leather in the picture was apple and not sieved which accounts for its (slightly unappetizing  appearance)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Can you please sign this epetition

The latest EU craziness bans the reuse of jars for honey, jam and chutney etc by bee keepers, the WI and charities etc.  This practice has been going on for centuries and is a good example of practical recycling


We request that the recent EU legislation prohibiting the sale of home made jams, chutneys and preserves in re-used containers be repealed. If this legislation is allowed to stand it will affect the income of thousands of charities and destroy a great British tradition.

Monday, September 17, 2012

In Praise of Buddleia

Its time to prune our Buddleias.   By pruning them back hard the next years growth will be long and straight - just right for use as garden canes.   The flowers on Buddleias are loved by butterflies and my bees.  As well as sticks for the garden the chippings go into the hen run to be processed (eventually) into garden mulch - isn't nature wonderful!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Winter Stores!

It feels satisfying to have a good stock of fruit and veg bottled, jammed, frozen and dried ready for the winter. We are using more Kilner jars now to save freezer space.  To freeze our fruit we cook with a little sugar, sterilise the jars in the oven and the lids with boiling water.  Fill the jars when everything is hot and screw down tight.   The Kilner tops will pop up if the fruit is not keeping. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Great idea

Thanks to  Frank Gapinski
Easy Vertical Bottle Garden
All you need is a small amount of vertical space around a balcony or an open window which can hang or store a vertical array of drink bottles that can grow all your herbs and lettuce easily. Recycle as many of your plastic drink containers. Make sure they are roughly the same size. Remove the labels. The larger two litre soft drink containers are ideal.
Drill a hole through each screw-on bottle top lid so that water can drip from one bottle down to the next.
Cut the base of the second bottle so the neck of the first bottle can funnel into the second bottle. Secure the bottles together, using plastic silicone or a glue gun to make sure your array of bottles are held securely in place.
An opening in the bottle for the seedling to grow through can be easily cut out with a serrated knife or a sharp pair of scissors. This will allow your plants to grow out and be picked.
Fill each bottle half full with potting mix and hang the assembly in a sunny location. Water the top container and watch any surplus water drip down to the remaining bottles. An empty bottle at the very bottom of your bottle garden can be added to collect any excess water. When full you can reuse this water and start the process trickling down once again.
See http://permaculturenews.org/2012/08/30/vertical-gardens/

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Making pesto and drying figs

Yes the current days activity;  Mmn! the smell of fresh basil fills the house - love it!
The recipe I use is at http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/fresh_basil_pesto/  but i modify it by using mostly rapeseed oil and cashews instead of pine nuts for economy.   We bottle it and freeze it for a winter treat (I know people warn against freezing cheese but we have had no problem with it)
The figs we are cutting into quarters, removing any thick skin and drying in the solar dryer or by the stove to use as dried fruit in baking.   In years to come I hope to have seedless grapes (now growing in the polytunnel) to dry for raisins etc. for the same purpose.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Our annual open weekend

Yes its time for our annual open weekend we will be opening from 10 to 5 on Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th September see the info on Heritage Open days site
We will be delighted to show you round our eco house and food growing garden and there should be refreshments available..

Monday, August 13, 2012


Our harvest is well under way:  Lots of tomatoes, raspberries and French beans disappearing into the freezer, cherry plum jam and blackberry jam and in bottles.  Strawberries, apricots, peaches and figs to eat, busy times but the best!   If you are in our area and want a cockerel contact me - we have to find a home for Clarence (my favourite cockerel!)
We have to give away our cockerel (we are in North Essex)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Taking a bee colony from a shed wall

I recently took on the job of removing bees from a shed wall at a Colchester Anglers lake.
The pictures tell the story:
Removing the side of the shed reveals some old comb
A nice quiet colony of honey bees
Cutting away the comb piece by piece reveals brood and a little honey
The bees are shaken or brushed into a hive containing foundation 
The old combs with hatching brood are propped in another brood box
separated from the hive by a queen excluder
The remainder of the bees are sprayed with water to stop them flying
 and brushed  into a basket  to add to the hive.
The bees are shaken from the combs and basket in front of the hive.
 The whole lot was sealed up and transported to my apiary where they are doing well.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Harvesting timber and food.

Here are some pictures of our milling a dead oak recently felled and a few pics of a large puffball (three this year) in our garden , much earlier than usual.
setting up the ladder guide

Starting to mill

11 foot of milled oak

One of three puffballs in our garden

Large cauli

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Hard Rain Project

Take a look at the picture gallery here but be prepared - many of the pictures are very challenging.
If you are in London go to St Martins in the Fields to see Mark Edwards exhibition.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

First swarm

Our first bee swarm today (it has been a very late season so far)  and our first courgette of 2012.
A hatch of 5 chicks also brightened up the morning!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The last and first

Yes it is time for the last squash (sigh!) The Crown Prince squashes kept very well in our new vegetable store but now we must do without them till the 2012 crop comes in. I am growing 'Sprinter' Butterenut squashes as well this year to try and fill the gap as soon as possible.

And the first chicks hatched on Friday - only four hatched (another weak one hatched and died later) but I cant blame the hen as she sat solidly through the rain storms and cold - snug in her little coup.  Two more hens are sitting so I hope for a better hatch next time. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Wet wet wet!

Over 100mm of rain here in the last week!  As we had about 417mm of rain in the whole of last year we are approaching a quarter of last years whole total.  The forecast is for colder weather so it is hard to know whether to sow frost tender plants yet - very different to last year!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What a difference a year makes!

Last year we were well into summer by now and my bees were ready to swarm.   his year I am finding it hard to get warm days for any bee keeping at all.   I haven't started any queen rearing yet!
I am delaying sowing tender plants like beans and corn (which I sowed early last year) to see which way the season will jump.   I will start sowing those next week.
On the plus side we aren't short of rain this year!  and the tomatoes in the greenhouse with the solar heat store are doing well and already in flower.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Update on sowing.

A quick update on seed sowing and plants:
Ready to plant out or planted in the greenhouse;  Moneymaker and Gardeners delight tomatoes, basil (plants from supermarket)
ready to prick out and for the polytunnel planting later - more tomatoes, cucumber (3 types)
Now growing in the greenhouse for planting out later; Celery, celeriac, peppers, courgettes, basil, various flower plants.
Sown in the polytunnel; climbing french beans, a variety of different brassicas and salad plants, leeks
Planted outside; potatoes, sugarsnap peas (under cloches)
Planted in the autumn; Peas (under cloches) onion sets and seed (now planted out), and now cropping; purple sprouting, romanesque broccoli, sprouts, salads, spinach, celeriac, celery, beetroot, carrot, squash (stored)
Phew - spring springs apace!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Oxfam Bring and Buy for International Women’s Day with tea and cakes

 Bring and Buy
for International Women’s Day
Tea and Cakes 
  17th March
  2 - 5pm
Christ Church, Carnarvon Road,  Clacton, CO15 6PH

Bring anything you like from jams, clean clothes, cakes, jewellery, plants, toys, books, etc

To help call Rosie on 07747847624 or rosie.dodds@ecodiy.org

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Frog Spawn in February!

Yes, our pond is a seething orgy of frogs spawning.   This is more than two weeks earlier then the last two years!
Almond and apricot trees are close to blossoming.   I will be watching carefully for any frosty nights in case the trees need fleece to protect them.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Its sowing time again!

Yes, isn't it great when spring is around the next corner!
We now have tomato and pepper plants growing on our window sills to go eventually into the green house and polytunnel.  Cabbage and broccoli seeds sown in the polytunnel along with lots of salad seeds, leeks, and climbing French beans. In the propagator are celery, celeriac  and indoor courgette and outdoors I have sown broad beans in the gaps in the autumn sown bean beds and put in some round seeded peas (Feltham First).  I also transplanted the onion seedlings from the autumn sowing to beds (under cloches just in case!)  I have put down pieces of polycarbonate on the beds to warm up the soil for early sowing of carrots etc. Buisy already in the garden!
In the wood the coppicing is coming to an end for this season; maybe two more weeks at the most.  There is lots of space for planting new trees but we may leave the planting till next autumn as the trees we have growing from seed are still quite small.  We have lots of chestnut and some hazel timber to cut and dry for fuel and some for planking as well.
Happy days!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Capel Manor College

Yesterday about 15 students from Capel Manor College in North London came with a mini bus and trailer and loaded 3 tons of large tree trunks for the college to use in its courses.  I was a little nervous about the process but it all went without a hitch (except that I forgot to take any pictures of the process).  Its worth noting that the group was a mixed one but that a female student was the most active in moving the heavy (300lb to 400 lb) logs - to the shame of the watching boys!  The log callipers were very useful in picking up the logs.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

All tucked up cozy in the snow!

Bees do better in the winter when it is cold

Not much solar production from these panels today I am afraid

Zero (the dog) loves he snow after the first shock 
Yes 5 or 6 inches of snow last night - protection for the plants against the cold.  Only problem for me is that it will be impossible to work in the wood till the snow melts!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Flying Saucers land again

Oh no!! another reminder of times gone by (when I had more hair and less beard!)
see the BBC One Show clip on youtube; http://youtu.be/GkA-CG_xxhU or the 20th Jan 'One Show' on BBC Iplayer

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sowing begins

Jerome our wwoofer learning to split
Sowing nuts (in January not May!)

Now the shortest day is past and the chickens are beginning to lay again my thoughts turn towards the spring!
Sowing seeds this week - Pak Choi, lettuce and cut and come again salad in the polytunnel.  Tomatoes and peppers in the propagator to plant out later in the green house (we are still picking tomatoes from the greenhouse so I haven't made the difficult decision to clear out the old plants yet!
Coppicing is going ahead in earnest in the wood with the help of our wwoofer Jerome and Shawn and  Barry (trading labour for logs)  We are starting with the Hazels this year and going on to sweet chestnuts later.   The last storm brought down a dead birch and large dead oak so there is lots of wood to use this winter.
The new solar PV is working well - happy days!