A great week for bees, with the 2 year EU moratorium on neonicotinoidal pesticides. I was mowing part of my lawn (I do it in stages to give frogs and wild flowers a chance), when I saw a couple of bees on the fruit trees. Only a couple mind.
Last year was poor for fruit trees, I think the blossom was rained and blown off before the pollinators had a chance to do their work. We've had some sunny weather, and my Pear tree seems to be blossoming late, the cherry is in full flower, and the apples are catching them up. I hope there are enough bees around to visit all the flowers.
With a small urban garden, though I am strictly organic, I am at the mercy of what my neighbours do when it comes to pesticide and other influence on bees etc, which is why I personally am pleased at the EU decision. (as well as the wider impacts on colony collapse and agriculture). Sadly in a domestic setting the stocks in a single bottle may outlast the short term ban, but hopefully the gap will create some scientific evidence as compared with countries outside the EU which carry on using neonicotinoids.
And so to bugs, or rather slugs. My lawn is full of Dandelions, which I try and fork out before mowing, and risking spreading the broken leaves to re-root (I am sure this is just because my mother dealt with them this way). A week ago I pulled one dandelion out, and left it by mistake on the lawn. So when I came to clear the shrivelled remains today, two things struck me (that I have seen before). Firstly, all the flowers had turned to seeds - how does it do that ? clearly an advanced panic reaction to preserve the next generation, or at least give it a chance. And secondly, there were loads of small slugs gathered around. They really are good clearance agents for the lazy gardener, Whilst I hate them taking my seedlings (or as currently eating my coriander and parsley in the greenhouse), I mostly stick them on the compost heap to help create new soil or maybe provide birds with some food.
Pleased that there are coal tits in residence in one of the bird boxes on the back of the house. I wasn't sure whether it was too exposed to be useful, but it is certainly out of reach of the far too many cats around here. Sadly the robins that were obviously feeding in a different box have stopped, and I fear our cat took the fledgeling.
Sunday, 27 January 2013
Pork and Apple
I feel I have failed my apple trees this year. Everyone it seems had a poor crop. We have a tree with three varieties on it, which the lady at the nursery didn't really want to sell "because they are troublesome", but that's not been an issue. The Cox branches didnt bear much this year, but despite the general dearth, the golden delicious seemed to be relatively quite a bumper crop.
And I did pick some. They were a bit scabby, and this is my least favourite variety, so I ate a few, but I am afraid they mostly sat in the conservatory, unloved, going wrinkled. Many more fell from the tree, and lay where I could see them from the house, challenging my ineptitude. Last year, we made cider, and chutney, and I took apples to work every day for months. What went wrong ?
I did console myself because quite a few showed signs of pecking, enjoyed by the birds through the harshest days of the winter. The blackbirds in particular seem to relish them, and they keep going on an individual apple until it is quite a hollowed out shell. The slugs enjoy them too, part of natural decomposition, though there is too great an abundance of them.
But now, with the first warmth of spring sunshine, and before the blossom starts to form, it is really time to clear the ground.
My friend Dominic keeps a pair of pigs in his garden, or rather he fattens up pigs over the winter, this being his third brood. On Christmas day, when we were round for drinks, admiring his 'boisterous boys' from the safety of the house, I mentioned my crop. The pigs go for slaughter in a couple of weeks, so today was the day to take them an apple treat.
It feels more worthwhile than just composting, and maybe a late appley diet will enhance the flavour of the pork. Last year's tasted good, and they only got the cider pressings from me !
Monday, 7 January 2013
Well almost, its a ground sourced heatpump
I've been keeping an eye on exiting developments at both the National Trust and the RNLI, as part of my 'hobby' as a director of Poole Tidal Energy Partnership. Both these venerable institutions are canny with their funds, all raised from volunteers and public subscription. Both are actively looking to reduce their carbon footprint in innovative ways, and are investing in heatpump technology.
http://ntenvironmentalwork.net/ is a great blog. In particular Keith Jones, responsible for the whole of Wales plus Northern Ireland is looking at all forms of renewable power including a seawater powered heatpump for Plas Newydd on the Menai Straits. Keith has enlisted the help of several Welsh Universities (the Seacams project) to help map and plan the development.
And the RNLI, with its headquarters in Poole, has by nature of its work, water always close to their doorstep, and have tested and installed a number of heatpumps - ground and water sourced.
http://rnli.org/aboutus/aboutthernli/Pages/Environment.aspx summarises their approach, but we have been talking to them for a while.
So it was time this weekend to return my son to University in Brighton, and I thought I'd drop by the Shoreham Lifeboat station, which has a ground-sourced heatpump.
The volunteer in the shop initially looked a bit crestfallen when she offered to show us around and I told her my particular interest, but entirely through luck, she said the station manager (another Keith) was on site. We met him on the stairwell, he had just been entertaining crews from other stations. He was happy to show us down to “the cave”, not normally on the tourist trail, where the heatpump sits. The machine is the size of a small washing machine, and they said it heats the station very effectively (the white tank is a temperature stabalising device). We were taken into the crew room, and it felt very warm – he said without needing to use the top-up heating. Indeed (and I had spotted it on approach), although it was a cool January day, they had some of the windows open on the top floor.
This is a groundsource system, with 3 boreholes going straight down 90 metres. Robert from RNLI HQ kindly filled me in on the details, this was the second station that they installed. The basic design of boreholes is based on the idea that roughly 55watts of energy can be extracted per meter of borehole. Therefore 3x 90m boreholes gives 270m of collector which multiplied by 55watts equals 14.8kW. – Allowing for a little safety margin in the design this is the peak power output of the heatpump. Given subsequent experience, they might have taken a different shallower approach, taking benefit from the groundwater adjacent to the eastury.
Really grateful to both Keith at the station, and to Robert at HQ for their hospitality and insight. Tomorrow we're presenting our ideas to councillors, and it is really helpful to know of solid progress from trusted organisations.