Saturday 29 November 2014

Sturmer Pippin

I guess this would be the marine of apple trees. Still clung to the tree in late November, still hard as anything.
This is great apple that we're eating at the moment. It's a good size, really sharp tasting and rock solid - no good if you have false teeth! A little like a granny smith I guess. 
I've read that this was a really important apple in Victorian times as it keeps so well. I've got one of these trees planted at my parents house (about 8 years old) and here as a cordon (two year old), but even with two young trees we've only enough to last a few more weeks - no chance to test out their keep abilities this year then! 

Friday 28 November 2014

Stir Crazy

My time as a stay at home dad has been pretty much positive since I started, but there are times when it's been harder than others. The last couple of weeks have been tough. 
My eldest has been poorly all week
My youngest was ill all last week with a sickness bug and then my eldest caught it this week. It's been a nasty bug, with them struggling to keep a glass of water down at times, but they're both on the mend now. 
We've been largely confined to the house, the furthest I've gone is to feed the chickens or collect in the firewood from the shed. Being at home full time doesn't bother me but not being able to do much outside does. I a lot of need time outside to function and although I've spent most evenings in the shed it's been tough to be so confined, plus the worry of looking after my two girls and wondering if I'm doing things right. I don't think I've ever given out so many cuddles in such a short period before! 
Hopefully both much better today and a trip to the library planned as a treat (and possibly the builders merchants)! 
Does anyone else get stir crazy if they're confined to the house for a length of time?

Thursday 27 November 2014

Instructions for parents

I saw this on Facebook the other day and I thought some of you might like it. It's the instructions for parents for lego from 1973. 
I think it's just brilliant.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Making A Water Powered Cider Press - A Failed Prototype!

 My friend Brian and I have been on about building a cider press for ages. 
There are many simple designs we could build using screw threads or bottle jacks, but Brian is an engineer - so that would be far too simple for him! 
He talked me into trying to make a press that uses mains water press for the power to press the apples. This idea is nothing new as you can buy them on-line but they are rather expensive, our idea was to make one using cheap materials and then have the plans available for anyone that wants to make them. 
We decided to build press out of 3/4" ply (18mm) and use a wine bladder from a box of wine as the pressing part. We built the ply box to the size of the wine bladder, we knew we were taking a risk with this method as the bladders aren't designed to work under lots of pressure or if they are we have no idea what that number is.
 Brian adapted the screw cap on the front of the bladder to take some 1/2" copper pipe, this would make filling the box easier. Not shown on the pictures is the corner fillets we fitted in all the corners so the bags wouldn't be going into a sharp corner.
 Our mashing of fruit was pretty basic - a mallet and a plastic bag!
 The finished prototype! We added second side pieces so that dowels could be inserted to hold the top on and Brian fitted a pressure gauge so we could see the pressure we were working to.

And now the Science bit, straight from the brain of Brian :-


When we were pressing on the "traditional press" the "cheese's had an area of about 600 x 600 and the max force we could apply was 20T.  We probably applied less as we bent the frame before maxing the jack out.  Say we applied 10T of force.

So max force was 10,000kg or in engineering speak 100,000 N 

The area was 0.6 x 0.6m so 0.36m2

Therefore the max pressure we could achieve would be Force/Area or 100,000N/0.36m2

which we can round to about 300,000 N/m2 or 300,000 Pascal (a Pascal is 1N per m2, i.e. bugger all)

There are 100,000 Pascal in a bar of pressure.  A bar is also known as 1 atmosphere.  So the max pressure we were applying to press in a traditional way was 3 bar.  THe important thing to take away is the pressure in in the order of a couple of bar and not hundreds of bar which is used for olive oil presses.

Mains water pressure varies between 1 and 5 bar in the UK and I happen to know that we get around 2 bar at our place.

This is because you can also calculate pressure in "head" terms, which is essentially the pressure generated by a vertical pipe of water.  The important thing is that the static pressure (the pressure when there is little or no flow) is only dependent on the height difference between the water supply and the delivery point.  For every 10m of height difference the pressure will be 1 bar.  I happen to know there is at least 20m of height difference between the back shed and the water tanks, so there is at least 2 bar of pressure available to squeeze apples (assuming the bladder doesn't pop)!"

Goggles, we decided, were essential!
We had the science sorted, we had the box built and we had some pears to squeeze.
Early signs were good, and juice started to flow. The pressure was making all the ply bend  and there was some serious creaking going on. 
We added straps around the outside as extra support, and then increase the pressure, then there was a small hiss and we decided to stop the experiment.

Unfortunately the bag failed. A small hole formed where the bag creases in the corner.
Unfortunately the bag had failed. It was only the smallest of holes, but we knew we were working with a bag that wasn't designed to be taken to this sort of pressure. 
It was good fun to design and build something like this even though it didn't work properly. 
I'm ever the sceptic and I couldn't quite believe the pressures that I was told we'd get off the tap (Theirs is from spring water with a header tank), but when we were pressing with it and the ply was trying to form the shape of a ball I understood the forces we were working with!
So although it's back to the drawing board I learnt a lot from this project and the next one will be even better! Although I don't think we'll bother until next year now though!
Anyone else spent time designing and building things only for them to fail?

Monday 24 November 2014

A Spot Of Fencing On A Sunny Sunday

Yesterday turned out to be a perfect Autumn day, with crisp sunshine. 
I decided to take advantage of how wet it was under foot and finish putting in some fence posts I've been meaning to do all year.
 This finishes off the bottom area of the coppice around some old larch trees. Because of where these are I had to put them in by hand - never a fun job! 
I also added the bracing so I'm now ready to install all the wire. Another few weekends and about 8 rolls of wire and I should have the whole place fenced ready for some stock. 
I've also got about 6 gates to hang. I'll have to do these with an old fashioned brace and bit (believe it or not I was taught to fit locks with one when I was an apprentice) as the power won't stretch that far. Hanging gates on your own isn't easy but I'm sure by the end of them I will have found an easy way to do it!
How does everyone elses fences look at time of year? Many repairs needed?

Sunday 23 November 2014

Medlar Harvest

My little medlar tree hasn't produced many fruits this year but the ones it has are huge!
The whole harvest!
I now need to let these blet before eating them. That is to go slightly rotten and soft, you then eat them with a spoon and they taste a little bit like custard. Apparently this fruit was popular in medieval times and was often referred to as " a bull dogs bottom" - no idea why!!
I have got another tree that I planted at my parents house around 10 years ago, we went on Sunday for a roast dinner (and to see my parents) but the tree had been pecked bare. Not a fruit left on it!
I was disappointed as I was looking forward to making some more spicy medlar chutney. The one I'm eating now (dated 2010) is quite possibly the nicest chutney I've ever tasted but blinking labour intensive to make. I think it took a total of four nights to put together as you have to make a jelly first - a true labour of love and then it needs at least a year to mature.
Anyone else got any medlars growing?

Friday 21 November 2014

Hummus Recipe

When my wife and I moved in together, many years ago, there were many foods I discovered that I liked that I either didn't think I did or didn't know existed, she introduced me to a world of flavours! Hummus was one of them. I'd never tried it before and discovered I loved it.
To start with we only really used it as a dip, with raw peppers or tortilla crisps (or chips for the Americans). Then I started using it in sandwiches and although you receive a certain amount of stick for having hummus in you sandwiches on a building site, it was worth it to break the monotony of ham or cheese (or ham and cheese if we were feeling flush that week). 
But now I'd like to make my own, rather than spending 90p on a little pot of the stuff and with chickpeas only 39p a tin from Lidl it makes it worth making at home. My wife also has a project making some at school for their Greece project next term and needs an easy recipe for the children to make.
The only trouble is I could do with decent recipe, it can't contain peanut butter (due to the school not allowing it) so Tahini is the order of the day and so far the batches I've made have been nice but the garlic is a little over powering.
Anyone else like hummus?
Any tips or recipes from anyone would be gratefully received.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Greenhouse Clear Out

With the sun shinning I managed to have a bit of time in the garden yesterday to get a few jobs done. My youngest "assistant" has been poorly all day and spent a large chunk of the afternoon sleeping in bed, she's just a bit under the weather with a bad cold and a bit of sickness, but when they're little it hits them hard. 
A little messy
 Me and Ev decided to get some jobs done close to the house (within range of the baby monitor), one of which was to sort out the mess that is my greenhouse. I got all the old tomato plants down and stacked in the burning pile and the buckets of compost taken down the garden and piled up ready for a mammoth raised bed I'm planning. 
 I then swept it out and brought in a few plants I want to have a little extra protection. My Chilean Guavas have put on loads of growth over the summer and it would be a shame to loose them to a hard frost. My fig "cuttings" are now four feet tall and show little embro fruits on them, so I might have a fig or two next year if I'm lucky, I still think it's best to keep these young plants in the greenhouse although I plan to plant some out at some point.
Fig trees over 4ft big now

Spent compost/soil mix ready to make a raised bed. Crocks and rocks in the bucket ready to be reused new year.

Show's how warm it is - Ev spent ages playing with caterpillars all afternoon 

My cuttings and strawberries grown from seed.
If it was colder I would have done all this sooner, but it's been so mild things are just only just starting to die off. I'm starting to feel a little bit more organised in the garden which is a good thing.
A quick question - does everyone else bring their bay trees into the greenhouse to over winter or do you just risk it and leave them out (assuming they're in pots like mine)? How often do you water plants over wintered in a greenhouse - like me when you remember - Or are you more organised?

Monday 17 November 2014

Repairing The Dishwasher

Sorry to have another post so close together about fixing appliances, but during last week the dishwasher kept flashing with an error message. There's not many days I could live without our dishwasher - there's just nowhere to stack anything, as can be seen in my kitchen video.
 I did a quick search on the internet and found out the most likely cause of the problem. Emptied the fridge, lifted it down and then tipped the dishwasher over. I removed the underside cover and then traced back the pipe for the waste water to the pump.
I opened the pump up and found the little bit of plastic that had been causing the trouble!
  It must have slipped through the filters somehow. I put the machine back together and it all worked fine. I was pleased we didn't have to fork out for a new dishwasher and this one will last a little bit longer yet.
The Internet is such a a great resource if you're trying to do things yourself. Years ago you would have had to have phoned someone (if you knew anyone who knew about these type of things) or just open it up and hope that you could find the problem. At least I knew what I was looking for and had some instructions on how to fix it. I bet many would have called someone out to fix it or, due to the age of the machine, replaced it.
What was the last appliance you repaired? And did the internet help you fix it?

Saturday 15 November 2014

Giving Blood

I gave blood again on Thursday night. 

My wife often jokes that I'm so survival orientated that I even picked a mate with the same blood group, then our children should have the same blood type (unless there is a mutation or a milkman involved). Great for a survival situation! Although I think it's has more to do with the fact that we both have a common blood type (ORH+) shared with 37% of the population - incredibly my blood can safely be given to 83% of people.

There was quite a queue and it ended up taking the best part of two hours but I still think it's worth it, I think that if you'd be willing to take the blood then you should also give it. They had some good magazines to read anyway and the staff are always really friendly. Good biscuits at the end as well!
It's a shame only 4% of the population give blood though, I think it should be more.

Do you donate blood? And do you know what blood group you are?

Thursday 13 November 2014

Combi Or Not?

What a great response from everyone yesterday! I couldn't believe what good replies I got to my questions. Thank you!

I had my thoughts about biomass confirmed and I think we'll be changing the boiler for another oil one, but situating it outside. Hopefully I'll be able to fit this with the help of a friend I've just done some work for, so plumbing costs should be minimal for the straight boiler swap, just the extra pipe work to take it outside (which I can do as well). 
I also need to concrete a little pad outside and install drainage under it for a downstairs loo before I do, so it will have to wait until it's dried up a bit first. In the mean time I'l do a little maintenance on the oil boiler to keep it running until then and use the wood burner as much as possible.
Ripping up floor boards in our last house to change the system to a combi.

 But that poses another question - to change to a Combi boiler or keep with the hot water tank system we've got? A combi heats the water as you need it for hot water, whereas the system we've currently got keeps stored hot water in a tank in the airing cupboard, indirectly heated by the water from the boiler.. I'm not sure I want to change the pipe work around to have the combi system as it means ripping up carpets and floor boards, although I'm sure a combi would be more efficient. We only use the hot water for washing our hands, baths for the children and washing up so having a tank might not be the best but if I start altering upstairs before Christmas it might cause a divorce! And it''s more work than I've currently got time for.
Thanks again for everyone's advice and experiences on the last post, I really enjoyed reading them and they all had some good advice in.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Boiler - Repair Or Replace?

Our boiler sits quite inconspicuously in our little pantry, chugging away when we have the central heating on (not that often now we have the wood stove) or hot water. 
Lately It's not been working all that well. When we set it to heat the hot water it takes an age to do it and then it likes to put the "lock out" light on and stop anything from happening.
I've been shown how to fix this problem and I have got it working a little better now but it doesn't hide the fact that it's an old boiler and probably hasn't got that long left anyway. 
My question is this - Is it worth repairing and to keep messing with it? 
When we build the extension we'll need a new boiler anyway and I want to have it outside the house rather than inside, taking up valuable space. In fact where the boiler currently sits will, eventually, become the downstairs loo.
A new boiler would be much more efficient as well, making the expensive oil go that bit further. Last year was exceptional in the fact that we used hardly any oil at all but we're quite exposed here and although we have the log burner it doesn't really heat upstairs, so we still need our central heating (or so the wife tells me). 

So we're currently toying with the idea of changing it for a new outside oil boiler and I've just done some work for a friend so fitting it will hopefully not cost too much. This will help spread the cost and the work load of the extension, getting a few jobs out the way early. 
The other option is to go for something like a ground source heat pump or a biomass boiler although I don't know enough about these to comment (although I'm trying to learn).
The extension will have another wood stove in it so I'm hoping in the future a large proportion of the heating will be done by burning wood but it's good to have a backup system and one that can heat the water.
Which way would you go? there are quite a few government grants about at the moment for using some of the "alternative" heating systems but they have quite a high up front cost to them before you see any return.

Monday 10 November 2014

6 Things I Wish I'd Thought About Before Upping The Scale Of My Garden

When I moved here I was already a reasonable vegetable gardener, but when I upped the scale from a garden and allotment to my large veg patch now, started from grass, there's a few tips that would have been handy:
Nice garden with no weeds - not for long!

1. Bare soil doesn't stay bare for long - I should have mulched, I should have mulched, I should have mulched! How many times have I thought this since planting my garden here. The weeds love a bit of bare soil. I would have been better off leaving some as grass and mowing it rather than giving the nettles a safe haven to grow in! Now it's a constant battle to try to keep them down
A weedy corner soon grows!
2. Don't let weeds go to seed - This applies to every garden but when you've got a large plot it soon gets out of hand. In fact it's not just normal weeds that become the problem, nasturtiums and marigolds were two of my chief weeds this year, pretty but not when they're in the wrong place! Also messy little corners of your plot soon creep out and before you know it you're knocking nettles down with a stick!

3. Just because you have the space to sow successionally doesn't mean you should - All the books tell you to sow every two weeks for certain crops like carrots. If you're anything like me you'll forget! It's better to sow lots in one go than to leave a patch, let the weeds grow and miss your chance for planting and although it's great to eat baby carrots, good sized ones are easier to prepare. Do whats best for you not what a book says.

4. Plant lots and lots of comfrey - Big gardens need big lots of nutrients, if you're growing organically then it can be tricky/labour intensive to find, begging farmers for muck is hardly fun. Planting a few large patches of comfrey means you can make your own liquid feed (along with nettle feed) and also you can mulch plants and fill trenches with it to grow hungry plants like beans. I brought no tomato food at all this year and grew 18 plants using just my home made comfrey and nettle feed with just as many tomatoes (if not more) than if I'd been buying a liquid feed. Keeping costs down when you've upped the scale is key but you still want everything to grow just as well.

5. Divide it up - Dividing up my patch into beds was the single greatest thing I did to my plot. Now it's so much more manageable, I can easily crop rotate every year and plan where things are going to go. I can also weed a bed a night in the growing season, so it's not quite so soul destroying when I walk out and survey my mini jungle that seems to have grown overnight.

6. Pick you're battles - You can't win them all, so concentrate on certain things. This year I've been trying to keep the buttercups at bay, the annual weeds don't seem so bad compared to this hell sent plant. I've also been trying to make sure that no docks go to seed. These little battles should make the next year easier and then I can pick on another plant to pick on and try to hold back!

These are just a few that sprung to mind without much thinking involved. What other tips would you give for when you up the scale of your garden?

Saturday 8 November 2014

Our Kitchen

Sometimes when I talk about what I'm doing on our little homestead people suggest things that would be useful in the kitchen. Our kitchen has one major downside - It's not very big! This limits the gizmo's I can have and limits me to a little hand blender and hand kitchen tools, not that that's a bad thing.

It measures just 10ft by 7ft but it has three doorways in it so making the usable space just 7ft by 7ft. This space includes the washing machine, dishwasher, fridge, sink, cooker and hob, plus just enough workspace to make a sandwich! In the 1950's, when they built this house, kitchen space wasn't such a priority as it is now.
Don't feel sorry for us though, we've got planning permission for an extension which will include a nice sized kitchen and this little kitchen will become a utility room. I plan on making the kitchen from scratch myself and we're going to spend a bit of time designing it so it works well for our little family and will last along time. a little more space would be nice though, it soon gets messy and some and when I'm dishing up food it can be a juggling act.
How big is everyone else's kitchen? Anyone got one smaller?

Thursday 6 November 2014

Scrubbed Up

There are many pictures on this blog of us with grubby nails and muddy boots but I thought it would be nice to show you all that we can scrub up when we need to.
My beautiful family
Some close friends got married on Monday and we were there to celebrate. 
I was Best Man and girls were three Beautiful Bridesmaids, the sun shined all day and we all had a great time! 
Crashed out
We didn't make it until the end of the night though!

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Pitmaston Pineapple

Our own apple trees are still too young to give us much of a crop yet so we're still relying on apples from my parents and from our friends in the village who have a good sized orchard.
You'd be forgiven for thinking these apples were crab apples but they're not!
 Our apples of choice at the moment are Pitmaston Pineapple. They are small, crab apple sized fruits that taste amazing, nothing like a pineapple but a beautifully sharp, almost nutty flavour. The trees are laden with fruit every year, covering it in almost grape like amounts, and due to the small size of the fruit they are perfect for little hands. The girls love them, Evalyn has created a fruit course after most meals and I have to fight them off Melissa on a regular basis. I'm eating about four or five in one sitting as well!
If dad won't let you have any more apples, just have a raw potato instead!
I'd recommend this tree to anyone that wants a small tasty apple that keeps until Chirstmas. It also  has one of the most interesting names out there for an apple, who could fail to be impressed if you offered a guest a Pitmastons Pineapple from your fruit bowl?

Sunday 2 November 2014

Experimenting With Soda Bread

This last week or so I've been experimenting with making soda bread for the girls and me to eat at lunch time. 
We normally buy all our bread in one go for the week then freeze it, but then there are times when guests turn up or you get through more than you thought you would have and need some more.
I hate going to the shops so the best option for me is to make it! Trouble is I normally only realise I need it when we come to eat it. No time then to let the yeast do it's work and prove the dough. 
Soda bread always sounded like a good option. but when I tried it first of all it was far too bitter. I followed the recipe from River Cottage Bread book but it uses four teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, it turns out that this makes it so bitter it's inedible. Evalyn pushed her plate away and said "I don't like", I didn't like either.
So I searched the internet for a better recipe and to figure out where I was going wrong. In the end I did my usual thing of bastardising a recipe and then messing with it until it tastes nice and turns out good every time.
Here is what I've come up with so far:

500g white flour,
teaspoon of salt, 
Teaspoon of Bicarbonate of soda,
350ml milk with a teaspoon of lemon juice in,
 Extra flour for dusting,

Crank the oven up to max with your bread stone in.
Add the lemon juice to the milk to make it sour.
Sieve the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl and mix together well.
Add the milk and mix quickly, kneed for a short while (minute) to pull it all together.
Split it in two, dust it with flour and then slap it on the bread stone.
Turn the oven down to 200 degrees and wait for 30 minute for it to cook.
It should sound hollow when you pick it up and tap it's bottom.
Eat it while it's still warm with butter and peanut butter. this bread goes stale really quickly.

Anyone else got any good instant bread recipes or other soda recipes? I've heard adding oats or an egg can make a difference as well.

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