Sunday, 30 November 2008

Energy crisis, what energy crisis?

The unfolding calamity of the world's markets over the last few months seems to have highlighted the inability of our political systems to cope with major global crisis. The best economic experts in the world failed woefully to defend banking systems from the tsunami of doubt that's seen seemingly untouchable monolithic corporations fold like corner shops as we all become owners of the 'free' market.

So what does this teach us? Firstly, we made the global financial systems, but they're so big and complex that no-one can control them. How can we hope to control a climate that we didn't make, when we probably understand it even less than we understand our markets? Secondly, it may not be wise to trust our political systems to protect us from the conflicting threats of climate change, peak oil production and impending energy crisis when they've shown themselves to be so impotent, culpable even, during the recent fiscal dramas.

Perhaps an element of self-sufficiency might benefit all of us over the coming years. Perhaps micro- (or even nano-) generation and food production will at least make us feel ready for the dimmer lights and the higher food prices if they every come to pass. At best, they help us avoid a return to the dark ages.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Free Parsnips!

These are the first parsnips I've ever grown! They were never going to win any root vegetable beauty pageants but boy were they tasty!

This Easter I made three raised beds, 3 foot by 4 foot each, out of old floorboards I had to replace. They've worked pretty well. One gave us all our salad from July to late October. Another gave us about 1000000 tonnes of string beans, spinach and slug-ridden cabbage and the other one had spuds, carrots and parsnips. The parnips and the spuds surprised me by growing about 10 feet tall and completely smothering the carrots. I thought I only planted about 15 plants but I'm sure there are about 50 out there. I planted them in March so it's been a bit of a wait.

This is not self-sufficiency. We'll still be going to the supermarket. But it's sooo nice to eat stuff you've grown. For starters, it tastes loads better than anything you can buy. It's probably psychological, but they do.

I'm on a bit of a learning curve, and loads of stuff got eaten by slugs, but I've got big plans for an organic, slug free veg patch next year, if I could only find a truely effective organic anti-slug strategy.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

When the wind blows... makes you feel good when you've got a windcharger! Feels like you're getting something for nothing. Even if it did take a few hundred quid to set up.

A 2 week 'wind credit crunch' finally ended this weekend with huge gale removing tons of leaves and the last few bird-pecked apples from the trees, next door's laundry from the line and started topping up my scarily flat battery. Seems to be recovering slowly.

I haven't been up there much this weekend what with one thing and another. Next week I want to finish making my folding wall-mounted table which I'm making from chucked-out headboards and maybe start making this years Christmas cards, which I'll be printing out up there too I hope.

Well the weather forecast points to a lovely windy week ahead. Suits me! Could do with a bit less rain though...

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Polypropylene carpet. Nice!

We've just had a new carpet fitted on the stairs. Polypropylene. Hard-wearing, bleachable, brown. Just right for kids and dogs and everything. Should last for years. Well it won't be biodegrading for a while anyway. It reminded me just how completely dependent we are on oil. We wear it, heat with it, eat with it, light with it, write with it, boy it's in everything from cosmetics to cars.

However will we cope without it? 

It seems pretty clear to me that, whether we accept arguments that we will run out of oil, we won't run out, we'll reach peak production, we are going to have to consider alternatives. But what can do what oil can do? It just does everything.

I love my nano-generation system but I recognise that we can't run industries using stuff like that. How would you run a foundry or a chemical plant using windmills and solar panels?

Doesn't it all make you hope that someone somewhere is about to invent something very very clever? I reckon we'll need micro-generation, biofuels, fuel cells and fusion reactors at least but we may never find an alternative to the magic do-it-all juice that is oil.

Anyway, I'm going to try not to feel guilty about our new carpet and enjoy the soft squidgyness on my way up to bed.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Flat calm

The trouble with having a windmill (ok it doesn't actually mill, but you can't just call it a 'wind' can you?) is it makes you a little bit obsessed with the wind. If there's one thing I don't need it's another obsession. I've got obsessions coming out of my ears! It's been boom and bust with the wind recently, gales on the weekend and then flat calm ever since so no charging action for me. I've been anxiously logging onto xcweather and the good ol' BBC hoping for some big arrows but it's not looking good for the week. I can feel my smugness draining away.

I went up there for 10 minutes earlier. I'm trying to make a little folding table out of old bed headboards to work on each weekend and when I got there the battery was about halfway through (12.2 volts, I think 12.8+ is 'full'). I used a table saw to get through one headboard but bottled out after 5 minutes of watching the red light flash on the charger controller. The voltage recovered after that. I learned three important lessons:
  • the voltage does recover after an initial dip and I have to mend my multimeter to work out what voltage drop I can expect and tolerate from the things I use up there
  • I could do with an alternative to just wind. It's a windy spot here, but if there's a northerly (there's a tree to the north of the charger) or no wind then the charger won't turn. So now I want solar panels as well
  • I need another obsession to take my mind off my new obsession. Then I'll need a new blog to blog that! There goes my weekends.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Up and running

I feel a bit guilty. All the time. I think most of us do really, and if you live in the West and own a house and drive a car and eat food that's better travelled than yourself then I suppose you've every reason to. Funny cos my grandad would have died to enjoy the freedom and choice we enjoy today, nearly did in fact, several times, especially between 1939-45. But now we have it all the cost of the compromises that are made on our behalf so we can enjoy the stuff we like seem a bit high. So this blog charts my attempts to salve my conscience. 

I can't go & live in a commune. I have a family and a job & stuff to do. I can't be totally self-sufficient. I don't have time or space and I'd definitely mess it up and we'd all have to eat grass for 5 months until spuds started growing again. I recognise that everything we have is either mined or grown and I know that really the best most of us can do is compromise. Pedal to work when you can, grow your own as much as you can, buy local, don't fly etc.

Well 3 weeks ago I did a really great thing, which is why I'm blogging it. It all started a year ago when I began saving for a shed/workshop thing in the garden. You know, somewhere to do woodwork and soldering and boys stuff out of the way where I won't annoy anyone. Well last May I laid a slab base. In June we went to a gardening show in Llangollen and I bought a display shed that was on offer. Then I had a better idea about the workshop thing.

I'm a teacher and I spend most Sundays with my work spread out all over the kitchen table and with the kids and everything it takes me 6 hours to do what should take 2. So I thought, why not insulate it, tongue and groove it to make it less sheddy to be in and use it as a 'garden office'? I could spend 2 hours in there without interruption and then rejoin the family, all self-righteous having done my work. So I did. Then I contacted a couple of electricians to get some power to it so I could use a laptop & a printer and maybe a circular saw and stuff (not all at the same time of course). Turned out it was going to cost at least £500 all told. Looking into it I found that it wouldn't cost much more than that to get a little wind turbine up there and reap the windy goodness, so that's what I did.

 So 3 weeks ago I hoisted my Rutland Windcharger, trimmed the last bit of excess steel cable from the guy lines and switched on the little 12v light inside and it worked! Then it was deathly calm for a week. No wind at all. Not a breath.  Then the wind came. Last weekend we were having gusts of about 50-60 mph and I was looking out of the window about every 10 minutes to check it was still there. And it survived! It even fully charged the battery! Ever since I've been charging laptops, phones, batteries and even using my circular saw to cut some skirting and honestly, even though I know I've just spent about 600 quid so it could hardly be described as free it feels so good to use 'free' electricity. 

Don't get me wrong, this is not a big system. Not even 'micro generation'. You might call it 'nano generation'. But I intend to use it every week for working, and short of running an extension cable all the way up the garden I don't have an alternative up there. So this blog charts my experiences as a practical green person. Can I reduce my impact on the world's resources and still have my computer on?  Can I compost properly and feed my family our own grown lettuce next spring? Can my shed become the hub of my eco-effort? Can I inspire others to try the same thing? Do the little things really all add up? Will my new windmill blow down in the next big winds? Or will my battery run flat?

I've got some woodwork to do up there this week and then my plan is to write a blog from my shed! Imagine how smug I could feel then. If a little cold.