Sunday, 7 June 2009

Eco shed nears completion...

It's almost a year to the day since I ordered my shed from the Llangollen garden show. Last weekend I finished making this workbench. I made it from FSC approved timber bought from just down the road, and cut and drilled everything using the renewable energy provided by the windmill and the solar panel.

A year since it began, my eco-shed project is almost complete. Fitting the solar panel has made a huge impact on the usefulness of the shed. We charge loads of stuff up there and now it's kitted out for woodwork. With a ton of summer projects ahead it'll be a great place to work, and I'll be able to feel very worthy as I drill, emission-free.

So what's left to do? Well definitely I need some guttering to collect the rainwater that's bouncing of the roof, and as we're in north Wales, that's a lot of water. And finally maybe some heating, although I'm hoping the summer bucks up enough for me not to have to worry about that for a bit.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

The coffee works!

Well I can report that I'm pretty sure that the coffee slug-repellant thing works. Look what happened to this here pumpkin plant. I didn't use enough coffee beneath the left-hand leaf. And this is what happens to your basil seedlings when you forget to put the coffee in altogether.

The only thing is that you need a lot of coffee. And if it rains you have to apply it again. But it's greener than comercial slug repellants. There's no way I can drink enough coffee for the whole veg patch so next week I'm off to Starbucks again for some more free stuff.

I know how it works. They can't handle the caffeine. I know how I feel after 3 cups of coffee. Lord knows how I'd feel after lying on a whole bed of the stuff. They must buzz for hours! Serves them right after all my salad seedlings they've had.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Sunny Delight

A couple of weeks ago I installed this solar PV panel on my eco-shed. Buster here provides the scale. He also looks slightly guilty, although I haven't found out why yet. It's a 30w monocrystalline panel from these guys. It's transformed the whole eco-shed thing. The difference is amazing. We can barely keep up with it. We've been charging everything: batteries; laptops; phones. It seems to charge faster than we can use it. Having said that, it's turned the shed into what I wanted: a normal room that we can use whenever. This Friday my wife used it for a full working day. I used it all morning today. Doesn't matter if it's windy or not. Wind just means you can do more stuff! I'm delighted.

My wife said, fairly enough, it's not eco if I keep buying stuff. She's right of course. I've almost finished now. I just need to make a workbench for woodwork and fit some guttering for rainwater capture (for the veg patch) and I'll stop buying shed stuff.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Coffee Slug Bugger

I'm not the world's best gardener. Far from it. The neighbours think I'm cultivating dandelions. I think part of the problem is that I'm time-poor so I tend to binge-garden. I planted a whole load of seeds in seed trays. When they started to come up I removed the propagator lids and the slugs had 'em. I hate slugs. No, not slugs, I hate what they do. Love the slug, hate the crime.

So I've been looking for an organic way of banishing them from my veg patch. I've tried taping copper tape round the sides of the raised beds. Last year I did slug patrol every night with a torch. It worked but was a bit labour intensive.

But now I've heard that coffee grounds work. But I don't have real coffee very often. Starbucks give away coffee grounds by the bucketload, free, fair play to them. So I got a few packets and I've sprinkled it all around the lettuce and radish seedlings. Will it work? Is this the end of slug patrol?

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Is 'Reduce' the hardest R?

Reduce, reuse, recycle, the 3 Rs. How well we know them. Most school children can recite them by heart. Now, I can recycle, God knows I can. Every fortnight I put out two bags, full to bursting, for the recycling lorry.

I've recently recovered from a cold. I swore I'd never again take the use of both nostrils for granted. But a week later I don't think twice about it. Recycling came late to Denbighshire (don't laugh Surrey), it's only a few months since we've been able to put out huge bags of plastic, cardboard and glass. But now I don't think twice about it. A month ago it was my daughter's birthday, and as I was stomping on the 10th mound of cardboard packaging from a battery-filled plastic import to squeeze it into another blue bag it occurred to me, did we always put this much refuse out? Where does it all go? And how are we going to stop consuming so much?

So I can recycle. I can reuse to an extent. I haven't bought new socks for ages. But can I reduce? Well this is harder. Kids' toys, books, the latest gadget, this is all too desirable. And there's too much packaging. But is a change on the way? Easter is coming and egg manufacturers are starting to respond to our concerns. Computer manufacturers are starting to tout products with fewer toxins and greater recyclability. So maybe less is the new more. If the market responds to our desires, the trick will be to desire fewer, better things. In smaller boxes.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

New 12v circuit for the eco-shed!

Last week I added a new 12 volt circuit to the eco-shed. The idea is that this can be used charge mobile phones and battery chargers etc. without switching on the inverter. The inverter draws power itself to raise the voltage to 240 volts, so it seemed a shame to then use a mobile phone's transformer to take it back down to something like 5 volts again. So I bought a 12 volt adapter, such as you might get for a car for charging 2 items from a 12 volt socket, cut off the bit you plug in, wired it to a 1-way light switch and ran a 2-core cable to the battery. Great!

The bad news? My mobile car phone charger is for an older model of phone and doesn't charge my phone. And the universal adapter I bought to solve that problem doesn't seem to work either. What have I done wrong?? Well I would check but I accidentally left my multimeter on & the battery went flat. And it's a weird battery too, a 12v 23 amp one, so I'll have to order a new one before I find out. Drat!

Monday, 16 February 2009

Does environmental protest work?

I read Plane Stupid's latest blog with mixed feelings of mild amusement and futility. There's some useful contributions to the climate change debate on their website, and there's no doubt that the right to protest is an important part of a functioning democracy. But I have big doubts as to whether waving placards in peoples faces, interrupting public debates and normal peoples' working day has any effect on anyones behaviour at all. It's a democracy. Engage in debate, sure, but don't stifle it, that just leads to stronger polarisation of everyone's views, wastes energy and prevents positive change.

In all likelyhood the global economic downturn will have a bigger effect on airlines that any banners or placards. If you really want to affect change, 
Want to change the world? Change yourself.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Nano-heating for eco-sheds

I spent three hours up there yesterday, marking schoolwork. It worked exactly as planned, a quiet sanctuary in which I could blitz the workload before rejoining the family. It was pretty seriously cold up there, so after a short while my thoughts turned to heating. And that's there they stayed, more or less, until I returned to the house, except for the occasional diversion to wondering whether my toes were still there. 

It's well insulated with eco wool, but that doesn't get it warm in the first place. If it's going to be a proper, year-round alternative workplace, I'll have to heat it. I reckon I've got three options.
  • some sort of low energy electric heater like this one, which, apart from the environmental cost of manufacture, should be fairly green once purchased given my windmill energy production. Although I'd really need a solar panel to boost input
  • a tiny wood burning stove like this one, I do a bit of woodwork up there and always have plenty of off-cuts, so with sawdust and everything I might have enough to keep warm, carbon-neutrally. But the flue would cost, as it would have to be double-skinned to avoid burning the roof down
  • the final option is some kind of wacky tiny solar set-up. I could put a little radiator in the shed linked to another one, painted black (as Mick Jagger suggested) in a glass-fronted box. A tiny solar-powered pump could circulate water round the system. This would be great but I can imagine all sorts of engineering problems and I don't really want to spend the whole summer setting it up.
I'll dwell on it some more, but I can imagine going for the little stove solution preferentially. It seems like the cosiest option. Unless anyone else has got a better idea.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Get the book! And feed the birds!

I've just finished a glass of apple juice made from the last apples from our apple trees, picked in October. I think that's amazing! I didn't even store them properly! I left them in plastic bags in the conservatory which is not really the recommended storage method. Mind you, most of them were all wrinkly and some of them went off as a result of my inadequate storage regime. But that had an unexpected benefit. With the cold weather the poor old birds here have zip to eat at the moment. I've put out seeds for them and boy! do they get through them. So I chucked the rest the apples out for them and they love them! What a green solution to the winter bird-feeding problem. Next year I'll try to store them properly (I'll get some apple boxes from the grocers) and save more for us and the birds.

Ok, a plug. I've written some notes outlining how to wind-power your shed, just like me! They're very comprehensive and take you step-by-step through the whole thing, from sourcing materials to having plans for the brackets and things. They're available from ebay here and they're terribly good value and 2 quid. I'm trying to raise cash for me solar panel, you see.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Maybe it's ok after all...

That article about Google searches producing stacks of CO2 seems to have caused quite a stir: denials and counter-claims. I certainly hope it isn't true, I feel guilty enough as it is! Not more guilt!

Mind you, true or not, it does remind us that using the web burns juice. There's a price for everything isn't there? But it's easier to ignore when you don't have to bear it directly. More guilt!

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Aeolian boom and bust

Three weeks of flat calm is finally over with a huge gale. My battery's charging regime is up and down like the FTSE 100. It means I finally got some proper use out of it today, I worked in the shed for a few hours, most of it spent getting the wireless signal sorted again. It seemed to drop out with all the wind and rain, but some Airport Express juggling had it working again. For some reason, one of them seems to deliver a better signal than the other one. You'd think they'd all be the same wouldn't you? Go on Apple, why are they different?

Anyway I got a couple of hours of productive effort up there. But while I was procrastinating I came across two interesting net nuggets. The first is this story from the Daily Mail. Could it be true? It's terrible! There was I, being all smug, thinking that saving a few watts here & there is an eco-help and then this. A couple of google searches generates the same amount of CO2 as a boiling a kettle! I do about 100 a day! It's a disaster. Now what do I do? Back to books I guess.

The second, which cheered me up a little after the first, was this staggering photograph of Saturn by the Cassini spacecraft. Glorious. For all our faults, we can achieve some amazing things can't we? Earth is in the photo too! Home sweet home. Let's hope that 2009 is the year that we collectively agree to make it sustainably habitable for all of us.

But will it mean less surfing? Oh boy...

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Happy New Year from the Eco Shed!

Happy New Year everyone!

It's been a few weeks since my last post what with the chaos in the run-up to Christmas and everything. But I haven't been idle! I'm writing this post from my shed! This is a wind-powered eco-post!

I finally finished the little folding table that you see in the photo here. It's made out of discarded wooden bed headboards and folds flat against the wall to save space in here when I'm doing some woodwork. And I just joined a new Apple Airport Express to my house network, so I have internet access up here. 

It's chuffing cold, mind. I can imagine having to find a little low-energy heater to make conditions a little more tolerable when it's a mere -2 or whatever it is today. 

But I'm delighted to be in a position to use the shed in anger, so to speak. My New Years Resolutions:
  • make regular use of the shed for working. This should save time on the work and money on energy.
  • cycle to work more often. It's only 3 miles away & I don't really have an excuse not to. Except I don't like cycling when it's rainy, which since I live in north Wales, is often.
  • save for a solar panel to compliment the windmill. It's been flat calm for a few days again & my battery is only showing 12.3 volts - almost halfway through.
  • spend more time with the kids having saved it up here in the shed!
  • become ludicrously rich somehow.
Like all of us, I don't always keep all my new years resolutions! But my intentions are always good.