Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Soil Tests

Soil Testing

I have 2 Rhododendrons that I wanted to provide cover for the chickens at some stage and knowing that they like acidic soil I put a load of fire ash around one of them to see if it made a difference.

It did!

The Rhododendron is dying, slowly. The other one is doing OK, not putting on much growth, but happily sitting there.

I decided to do some tests on my soil, the manure and the fire ash. I mixed the samples with tap water and left to stand for a few hours.

Firstly I measured the tap water:
Tap water - 7.4 ph and 0.860 mS conductivity. The electrical conductivity was higher than normal (0.6 mS) but is about what I'd expect. 

Fresh Horse Manure:
Fresh Manure - 8.6 ph 2.44 mS conductivity. The higher conductivity shows more salt. Not a good sign. This equates to about 1.2 PPT of NaCl (table salt per KG) which is a little too high.

Clay Soil:
Clay Soil - 7.0 to 7.2 ph 0.72 mS conductivity. Depending how well I mixed it the PH varied a little but it is what I expected. The conductivity level is similar to what I have recorded for other soils.

Wood Ash:
Wood Ash -10.5 to 12.7 ph 3.2 mS. The variable PH depended upon the probe touching the ash itself (12 PH) or just the water (10.5 PH). This surprised me! The PH is very high. That explains why the Rhododendron is dying. I made the mistake of thinking ash was acidic when it clearly isn't. Coal ash is probably what I was thinking of as being acidic. The conductivity levels are probably measuring the Calcium carbonate / potassium chloride etc.

Rain Water from Butt:
Rain Water: 5.6 ph 0.045 mS (45 uS) conductivity. This is virtually de-ionised water. I have been buying de-ionised water by the litre and I should have realised that I have the stuff for free in my water butts!

Well Rotted Horse Manure:
Manure - 8.3 ph 1.7 mS conductivity. The leaching of the salt can be seen caused by months of rain. This equates to about 0.85 PPT of NaCl which is a bit high but nothing to worry about.

6 month old horse manure in the beds:
Manure - 7.6 ph 0.95 mS conductivity. The conductivity reading was lower than I was expecting compared to the well rotted manure but this could simply be the variability in the manure. Different times of the year the horses are kept in more and have more wood saw dust and different feed and this bed was made from manure from horses outside and the fresh manure is from stabled horses. The well rotted manure could be a mixture. Also older batches of manure had more straw.

The electrical conductivity readings for the fresh and well rotted manure were a little worrying as it suggests I have been adding too much salt to the soil but the measurement of the vegetable bed which is totally manure 1 foot deep put my mind at rest as the salt has leached away. The PH of the rain water is interesting as it is quite acidic and I now know to remove the wood ash from around the Rhododendron and hopefully it will recover.

I still have the problem of making the Rhododendron soil a bit more acidic if I can although the plant that I left alone is doing OK and perhaps it'll start growing this year since it only went in last early summer and perhaps it hadn't bedded in which was the cause of the slow growth. Buying some Sulphur looks like my best bet.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Wildlife Pond Milestone

Wildlife Pond Milestone

One of the first things we did with the field was to make a wildlife pond, added a few plants and sat back and waited.

The Wildlife Trust sent me on a short course about ponds and apart from the design of it needing to have shallow parts, over hanging vegetation and edges that wildlife could climb in and out of the main thing I learnt was just wait for the wildlife to colonise.

30th April 2013 (click to enlarge)
The pond was started in March 2013 and by May 2013 it was finished. A few pond plants were added and the banks seeded with wild flowers. The edges were allowed to grow wild. Within months there were diving beetles, midge and mosquito larvae as well pond snails. It was amazing how many little bugs arrived. By 2014 newts had found the pond and there were newtlets as well.

As the long grass became established frogs were seen all over the garden then one or two were seen in the pond. All very exciting and the newts should perhaps be seen as the first big milestone but unfortunately newts aren't always easy to spot and even harder to photograph since they are in the water. In 2 years the pond has changed out of all recognition and in winter and early spring looks a bit of a mess since the flowers are yet to appear and all the dead stems from last year are still around.
16th June 2014 (click to enlarge)
The summer growth almost hides the pond but the long grass and flowers attract all sorts of butterflies, moths, bees and birds.

Last summer saw a lot of algae grow and I was waiting for the other pond plants to take over which has now happened.
8th June 2014 (click to enlarge)
8th June 2014 (click to enlarge)

Summer growth completely surrounds the pond.

March 2015 sees the pond looking a little sad but it won't be long until all the greenery reappears.

21st March 2015 (click to enlarge)

I had been waiting for the frogs to appear and yesterday frog spawn appeared.
21st March 2015 (frog spawn)

Late in the evening I went out to shut the chickens up and heard some croaking so I quietly approached the pond and although I couldn't see in the dark fired off a photo. I hadn't seen so many frogs in a pond since childhood!
21st March 2015 (click to enlarge)
Using a torch I roughly counted 50 although many kept going underwater so there may well have been many more.

The next day they were out in the sunshine but they kept disappearing no matter how quietly I crept up to the pond. I sat for an hour or so waiting for them to reappear and one by one they did.
22nd March 2015 (click to enlarge)
22nd March 2015 (click to enlarge)

22nd March 2015 (click to enlarge)

I also took a video using the phone but had to have full zoom so the quality is rather poor. The end of the video shows just how quick they vanish and they didn't show again for 20 minutes.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Raspberries, Worms & Frog spawn

Frogs Spawn - 21st March

Frog Spawn
Even though we have had hundreds of frogs and some toads in the field last year they didn't spawn and I introduced some tadpoles that a friend's daughter got. She was going to keep them in a bowl for a bit of fun but I gave them a better home. This year there is a lot of spawn. It would be nice to see some toad spawn and I'll have to keep fingers crossed.

Malling Leo Raspberry bed
Yet another raspberry bed. 10 plants go in today since you can't have too many raspberries and the digging will also help drainage and fertility. 5 wheel barrows of manure mixed with the clay should hopefully break it up a lot but judging by other beds it'll take another year or 2 of manure mulching to make the soil better.

I'm still at a loss as to why people buy worms for a wormery. Simply put a load of manure on the ground, wait a couple of months and before you know it you have hundreds upon hundreds of worms. One spadeful alone must have had well over 50 worms. A barrow load taken from a worm rich seam must have had several hundred.

Solar Eclipse

Solar Eclipse

The solar eclipse as a spectacle wasn't on the scale of the 1999 eclipse because you needed to be more northern to get the fullest eclipse but it did give an opportunity to see what the eclipse looked like to my IR and Visible light meter as well as see it's effect upon a solar panel.

Two things about the eclipse had bugged me in the run up to it. Firstly the media were reporting that the loss of the sun during the eclipse would put strain on the power generation system and also scientists had been asking for "citizen scientists" to report on changes of clouds and wind. I didn't, couldn't and still can't see why it would have been a problem for the power generation in the country, the chances of a black out or power shortage seemed a farcical idea and more like an opportunity for a news headline and why would scientists need people to report on the weather change when they could monitor it themselves? Again, another PR opportunity to create "engagement" with the public I think.

Simple graph plots of the solar panel power output along with Infra-red, Ultra Violet and Visible light should be sufficient to answer both questions.

Click graphs for bigger image.

UV Index

Solar Panel Insolation in W/m2
IR and Visible Light

UV Index Rolling Average Over 1 hour

Obviously all graphs look incredibly similar but since we are monitoring the sun, which is being blocked up to 87% or so, that is what would be expected. The solar panel Y scale hasn't been calibrated and is probably around 18% too high but that is unimportant.

Potential power shortage?
To answer the question as to whether there was any likelihood of a power shortage caused by the dip in power from solar panels you need to consider that good solar panels are only around 15% efficient and since the sun's power hitting the panels is only going to be around 150 to 300 w/m2 at this time of year at the time when the eclipse happened a maximum loss of 15% of that equates to about 33 watts per hour. Across 2 hours that's 66 watts per meter. Considering it wasn't totally dark even less was actually lost. Also this time of day just doesn't generate much power anyway, compared to the mid day sun which can produce 150 watts per meter. Across 2 hours around mid day had the eclipse happened then, it would have lost 300 watts per square meter which would have been nearly 5 times worse. Very little power was lost due to the eclipse and when you consider that my panel had almost no cloud cover it wasn't much different to there being no eclipse and a fair amount of cloud. I conclude that the national grid had no issues what so ever compared to any normal March day during this time.

Scientists want to know weather conditions from citizen scientists during eclipse
Why? All 3 graphs, UV, IR / Visible and Solar insolation are "spiky" across most of the day. The spikes are cloud cover, pollution in the atmosphere and general humidity. They are there most of the time, even with little cloud because there is often a haze. The darker and thicker the clouds the deeper and bigger the spikes. Yesterday was a hazy but generally bright day at my location all day as the spikes show but during the eclipse the spikes disappear to a large extent. This matches what I felt, the wind seemed to drop, and it seemed to clear up the more the eclipse happened and then as the eclipse faded the wind rose a little and the clouds formed slightly more. The graphs certainly suggest the cloud cover thinned. If I can see this then why do the scientists want you to tell them what you witnessed? The calming of the weather often happens around dawn and dusk and can also be seen in the late afternoon on the graphs which also ties in with the sun having a regular effect on cloud and wind as it gets brighter in the morning and then dulls in the early evening. The sun being covered and reducing the amount of solar power hitting the ground will have also effected the temperature. Up to 300 watts per meter of solar power was reduced on the surface of the earth which is like having a 300 watt heater on every square meter turned down and then off.

It didn't go dark
A market stall owner had brought some torches just in case it went dark but as the graphs show, the solar panel output dropped to almost zero as expected at the peak of the eclipse but the other readings only dipped. A rough look at the graphs show that the light levels dropped about 84% (very roughly) which equates to the percentage of the eclipse cover, although there was also some extra scattered light getting through bouncing off of the atmosphere. Even with the sun being covered 84% or so it was still very light which goes to show how your eyes work. The pupils dilate as needed to let more of less light in. When it is very bright bright your eyes try to reduce the amount of light hitting them and when there is poor light levels your eyes open up more to let more light in and hence you din't notice the light levels drop by that much.   

A few minutes of eclipse?
The graphs also so, despite clouds and haziness,that far from the eclipse being a 10 minute wonder it happened between 8:40am to 10:30am at least and maybe longer.

Body clock
Another observation is that the birds quietened down as the eclipse happened and changed their behaviour. The previous eclipse I saw in 1999 demonstrated this to a much bigger degree, which shows that they, and us, are influenced by the rhythm of the sun and light levels.

The UV sensor failed, caused by corrosion. The manufacturers have told me that the problem is caused by the lead free solder and other modern processes. Something to do with moisture, air and sulfur...it wouldn't have happened with non-eco type processes. I think it is caused by some copper pads not being covered fully by solder and the solder reacting / copper reacting with moisture. Either way it only lasted 6 months before shorting out. The white powder around the components is the problem. Replaced sensor and back up and running.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Going for diversity

Diversity and Forest Garden

I like to have as many different fruits as possible and over the last few days I have managed to find a fair few berry fruit bushes that I hadn't already got. I've already got a few different Raspberries but have added 5 "Malling Leo" canes to the collection since we all eat Raspberries and the more different varieties will help to extend the season.

I have 5 Gooseberry bushes already but have no idea as to their names but going by the colour of the fruit and size of the bushes they are different so I've added another desert red Gooseberry to the list.

Other berry bushes about to go in include, Boysenberry, Cow berry, Mulberry, Chokeberry and Cranberry which will add to the collection of Strawberry, Blackcurrant, Redcurrant, Logan berry and Tay berry and 4 other Black berry bushes.

Two small black grapes and 2 Kiwi fruit bushes will have to go into the greenhouse along with the previous Orange and Fig that I bought last year. It'll be interesting to see how these go.

Dog Wood Area
Half of the field is slowly developing into a forest garden which is currently an orchard with all the standard type of fruit trees, Apple, Pear, Cherry, Plum, Crab, Medlar, Quince, Cherry plum and perhaps another but I want to expand it and add a woody area so 10 "Cornus" red dog wood bushes have gone in to a small area with a Hazel nut bush with a Laurel  and "Griselina Litoralis" bush to give a bit of instant height as well as being ever green. This small area will be inter planted with strawberry as ground cover since I have found strawberries suppress the grass. Hopefully all the leaves will drop and help to hold back the grass and slowly condition the soil. All the bushes were placed into a hole and the clay was mixed with rotted manure and then mulched with manure. There are also some "wild" Daffodils (which I'm not too sure are wild) planted in this area which came up last year but haven't broken through the grass yet but I did put a spade through one and can see that it was growing. The turfs that came up were simply laid between the dog wood to raise the ground and allow what ever bulbs are planted within them to still have a chance.

The two "Ceanothus Puget Blue" bushes will go near the bottom of the pond and hopefully these will link the main hedge to the pond which is then linked to the dog wood area to bring the birds out of the hedge and into the central area of the field. This area is filled with flowers with a sitting area in the middle and is screened from the car area by the willow we planted last year. I have two cork screw Hazel bushes to also go in within this area, somewhere.

I'm going to have to start planting between the fruit trees at some stage but since this is a large area I haven't decided how to keep the rabbits at bay yet. The boundary fence put up during the first few months when we started isn't stopping the rabbits and although specific areas have been fenced off to protect them the bigger orchard area will be a problem. I think each individual fruit bush that I inter plant between trees may need it's own little ring fence.

I've also got 10 bare root field maples and 10 bare root Beech trees to go in along the south and east boundaries to help stop the wind from whistling through the field. The house and stables protect from the North, the main road hedge protects from the west but most of our wind comes from the South East so this area needs attention. I think one of each of these will also go into the chicken area which hopefully will not only give the chickens some more cover but will add leaves for worms and slugs etc to hide under to help the chickens to scavenge with the added bonus that the holes I dig will aid drainage and allow the trees to suck up water since I have only half solved the flooding problem in this corner.

Privet Hedge starting around compost heap area
As we enter our 3rd year I'm rather hoping that all this latest planting will transform the field once more as has been done in the previous two years. This year will also see the biggest amount of planting of non fruiting bushes and trees with yet more every greens to go in and at some stage soon a pagoda will be going in which will allow a few climbers to be added. The fence separating the car area from the field will also be extended.

I have also sown some (50 to 100) hazel nut and walnuts that someone gave us to eat, fresh off of their bush, in the autumn and I'm rather hopeful that a few of these will set. Some are in the green house, some in a cold frame and some direct sown into the hedge line. I'll consider this to be a bonus if only a few succeed but last year I had a Sycamore and an Oak self seed and take which I transplanted into the hedge along with a walnut that we were given.

Seeded with wild flowers
My attempts to get wild flowers to germinate within grass failed on several previous occasions and so this time I have scattered seeds and then covered them with some compost. The grass was cut very short during winter which has held it back a fair bit and the addition of compost will hopefully allow the seeds a good start before the grass over powers them.  

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Spring is almost here

Spring is almost here

There is normally one day around this time of year that suddenly makes me realise that Spring is almost here and it kick starts me into sowing seeds and readying the veg beds, and today was that day. It isn't just being aware of a warmer sun, it's a mixture of things. Many buds on the fruit bushes are looking as though they are about to open, Daffodils burst into colour and the Hawthorn leaves have started to show on the odd bush, the Crocuses are almost all out and the greenhouse feels very warm now.

Looking back at February's weather and comparing it to the first 10 days of March I can clearly see the difference. The average temperature "High" in the first 10 days of March is nearly 3.5 degrees C higher than in February and the number of hours of sun in Feb averaged out as 2.2 hrs per day compared with 4.4 hrs for March so far. Clearly a big difference.

The average UV index for Feb was 1.2 and so far in March it has averaged 2.1 and yesterday the UV index averaged 3 for the day which is the first time it has reached this level since September and so March has the same risk to your skin as September has.

The last day of air frost / freezing temperatures was 2nd of May last year and 1st of May in 2013 so we still have a way to go before the freezing temperatures stop but since Onion sets are normally happy as long as the temperature doesn't fall to minus 5 or so and since the coldest night (air temp) has been -3.5 this winter I think it is safe to plant Onions, which is what I did today as well as Early Onward Peas and some Field Beans.

I also looked at the worms in the compost heap today, as I do most weeks, and the worms are closer to the surface and are far more active than previous weeks. The Algae and duckweed in the pond has also started to multiply as well as the pond snails. I also saw the first Brimstone Butterfly yesterday as well as a couple of Bees today and this week has seen the Tomato plant seeds germinate in the greenhouse. The Willow has had it's Catkins out for a while now and the grass is growing and now needs cutting. Also the Solar lights along the path are brighter

The wind for March has come from the North West so far but today has seen it change to the South East and the forecast for the next week is also South / South East and so is yet another indication of better things to come.

So many pointers to Spring being around the corner.

With a tax rebate of £1900 paid into my account today it can only mean one thing.....off to the garden centre tomorrow! 

Maximum February 2015 Temperature outside was day: 25 at 13.3 Deg C 
The average high for February was 8.2 Deg C 
The average low for February was 1.17 Deg C 
Minimum February 2015 Temperature outside was day: 10 at -2.8 Deg C 
Average February 2015 temperature outside is: 7.48 Degrees C

There were 6 freezing days  and the last day of air frost was 27 in February
First frost day was: 1

Potential Electricity production (24 sq Metres of panels / 4KW system): 126.19 kWhs (£16.41)
There were 61.87 Hours of sun (>120 W/m2 irradiance) in February
The Average UV Index was: 1.21946
The sunniest day was: 9 with an average UV Index of: 2.56606
The dullest day was: 12 with an average UV Index of: 0.181467

Average cloud percentage: 67.03%

There were:
   Awful Days: 2 - Totally dark clouds all day
   Dull Days: 12 - Mainly cloud all day
   OK Days: 2 - Sunny spells
   Nice Days: 5 - High cloud, fair amount of sun
   Very Nice Days: 3 - Almost no cloud all day

(This site sees 40% less wind than Met Office suggests. Wind & Gusts are averaged over 10 minutes)
Max gust, not averaged over 10min was from NW, Jan 25th 2014, at 59.3 mph - perhaps tornado close by.
Taking into account wind is 40% down then this would have been around 100 mph

February 2015 Maximum gust of wind was day: 22 at 29.8 mph 
Windiest day was: 23 with an average speed of: 12.59 mph predominantly from a North Westerly direction
There were 0 days of gales (10min average wind speed above 34knots / 39.13mph) in February

Wind Rose for February 2015
 N (average:  0 mph) - 0 days
 NE (average:  5.93 mph) - 7 days
 E (average:  0 mph) - 0 days
 SE (average:  4.36 mph) - 2 days
 S (average:  0 mph) - 0 days
 SW (average:  5.52 mph) - 2 days
 W (average:  0 mph) - 0 days
 NW (average:  6.21 mph) - 17 days

The wind in February could produce a maximum 260.824 KWHs of power (£33.91) for a 4 metre blade turbine

Lowest February 2015 pressure day was: 23 with 981.8 millbars
Highest February 2015 pressure day was: 8 with 1035.9 millbars

Total February 2015 rainfall was: 62.17mm
Wettest Day was: 1 with 13.5mm of rain which represents 21.72% of February rainfall
There were 10 rainy days (above 1mm) in February

There were 1650 minutes of rain or 27.5 hours (rounded up to nearest 10 minutes) in February
Rain rate was 2.27mm per hour.

139.51 cubic metres  (139509 litres / 30687.8 Gallons)  of rain fell on the plot of land in February
26.68 cubic metres  (26670.9 litres / 5866.78 Gallons)  of rain fell on the house area (House stables yard garden) in February
112.84 cubic metres  (112839 litres / 24821 Gallons)  of rain fell on the field in February
When raining, 2.27 litres / 0.5 Gallons of rain fell per hour on each square metre of ground in February
Each square metre saw 62.17 litres / 13.68 Gallons of rain in February

March so far

Maximum March 2015 Temperature outside was day: 7 at 16.71 Deg C 
The average high for March was 11.64 Deg C 
The average low for March was 1.57 Deg C 
Minimum March 2015 Temperature outside was day: 9 at -2.6 Deg C 

There were 3 freezing days  and the last day of air frost was 11 in March
First frost day was: 9

Potential Electricity production (24 sq Metres of panels / 4KW system): 108.51 kWhs (£14.11)
There were 44.35 Hours of sun (>120 W/m2 irradiance) in March
The Average UV Index was: 2.11087
The sunniest day was: 10 with an average UV Index of: 3.09093
The dullest day was: 5 with an average UV Index of: 0.868141

Average cloud percentage: 31.43%

There were:
   Awful Days: 0 - Totally dark clouds all day
   Dull Days: 2 - Mainly cloud all day
   OK Days: 1 - Sunny spells
   Nice Days: 3 - High cloud, fair amount of sun
   Very Nice Days: 4 - Almost no cloud all day