Sunday, 19 March 2017

Rescuing an old Wheelbarrow ...

We inherited our garden wheelbarrow from the previous owners of the house - it looked ancient enough then and they obviously didn't even think it was worth taking with them to their new place - but it's served us very well for the last six years.

However, the steel body tray fell off recently when tipping garden waste - the tray's totally corroded around the four bolts which fix it to the tubular frame.

old steel tray totally buggered ....

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Solar Powered Greenhouse Ventilation ...

It can get very hot in our big greenhouse in the summer and we need to remember to leave the door propped fully-open if we're going to be away, or even just out for the afternoon, otherwise some plants can start to wilt as the temperature rises to the mid-40s celsius.

I therefore decided to build a passive ventilation system, i.e. one which works automatically and needs no intervention from us.   There are no opening windows in the greenhouse, so fitting a pair of extractor fans high up on the rear wall was the plan.  

There are already five low-level aluminium louvre vents provided along the front of the greenhouse from the time of its construction, through which fresh air can be drawn in as the hot air is expelled.

I suppose I could have used kitchen-type extractor fans powered from the mains supply, but I've four 108 Wp solar panels in the shed simply gathering dust at present.  

To first confirm that the solar option was feasible, I dug one panel out, gave it a wipe clean and hooked up a 24V dc fan to the panel connector.   Even on an overcast morning the fan started to run immediately, and checking with my multimeter showed that the load voltage of the panel under those conditions was 20-24V (open circuit was ~34V).

So I decided to refit one of the solar panels to the greenhouse, but this time to one side of the roof which will also form a covered porch over the door.  

I still had the multi-panel wooden frame from when I removed the panels, so I cut off one panel-sized section and used that as the basis for the construction.  It only took the addition of a couple of knee braces back to the greenhouse structure and a fresh coat of paint to finish it off.

panel support frame over the greenhouse door ...

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Early Seed Sowing....

The days are getting longer and there's real heat again in the sun, so long as you're sheltered from the biting cold winds of course !

It's that time of the year when all gardeners are itching to start growing things, but experience tells us that it's still far too early to sow without the right conditions.

However, now that we have mains electricity in the big greenhouse, we can use heated propagators to get a headstart with the seed sowing.   Historically, we've started most of our seeds off in the house on the kitchen and workshop windowsills, but even in these south-facing locations the overall light levels are not quite enough to stop some seedlings becoming blanched and 'leggy'.

I've two heated propagators that the wife bought me for Christmas many years ago - we had electrical power to the greenhouse in our previous house - but they've just been languishing in the shed here for the last six years.

When the sun's shining, the greenhouse can get quite warm even at this time of year.  We've already recorded temperatures approaching 30 degrees C in there, so the propagators are connected via a plug-in thermal switch, which only cuts in when the temperature drops below a preset level - in our case, I've set this to 17 degrees.

the thermostatic switch...

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Making Planters from ...

further ideas for garden planters ...

1.  Coal / Log Boxes

I bought one of these decorative fireside boxes at a junk shop for a tenner.  Many of these old boxes are wooden panelled and then just covered with embossed brass-plated sheets as decoration and protection from heat, but this was a solid steel box underneath and therefore very suitable for use as a planter.  It's 400 x 300 x 300 mm in size, about 35 litres internal volume.

I drove out the hinge pin with a drift and removed the lid, and then drilled some large drainage holes in the bottom, before painting all the internal and external steel surfaces with a gold coloured metal paint (Triflow, similar to Hammerite).  Three heavy coats to prevent corrosion.

Within a few days, and before the paint was even dry on the first one, I spotted an identical box on eBay, located just a few miles away, but this second one cost me £17.50 after a round of negotiations although it's actually in worse condition than the first, cheaper box.   

preparing the second box for painting....

Friday, 13 January 2017

Goal for 2017 - Chasing more Passive Income ...

Despite my views on goal-setting I expressed last January, I do actually have one for this year, although it's financial rather than lifestyle and so I'll allow it ...

I've been tracking all the passive income I've received over the last three years.  This includes dividends, bond coupons, index-linked growth, interest, premium bond prizes and any other such distributions.  

In the past, I haven't necessarily been seeking yield as a primary objective, but there's no doubt it's a nice warm feeling every time a deposit turns up in the accounts, money for which I haven't had to work. 

The passive income I've received has grown naturally with the portfolio valuation, and indeed the sums I received in 2016 were 36% higher than in 2015.  However, I think it's time to push it a little further and see if we could cover a greater proportion of our living costs from investment income alone.  

If I take the 2016 year-end passive income figure and divide it by the 2015 year-end combined portfolio value, the income return on the total assets was only 2.3%, which just seems quite low to me.   Whereas the total return in 2016 on the assets held at the end of 2015 was 15.7%, i.e. including capital growth but excluding any of the 2016 additions to the pot.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Six weeks in the Canary Islands !

We've just arrived in the Canary Islands, where we'll spend the next six weeks in an apartment hotel.

Now that we don't have animals to worry about back home, we're again free to spend extended periods on our travels.   We're no strangers to being away, I've worked in expat roles and on projects in foreign locations where we've been away for years at a stretch.

The Canaries are really the only place where there's decent weather all year round, but also easily accessible from local airports - other warmer places in the world require long flights and only tend to operate from just a few very large airports.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Investment Review - December 2016

The results are in for the last quarter of 2016, and so here's the spreadsheet for the combined portfolio as updated on Friday 30 December.

Click on the graphic for a larger image.