Monthly Archives: June 2014

24/06/2014

Yesterday this years’ batch of parsnip wine was bottled (18 bottles). We should be able to drink it at Christmas.

The lunchtime post included a recorded letter from HSBC stating that my account could not be closed until they were in receipt of my bank cards and chequebook. (Despite HSBC having stated that they did not need these returned!) As LSS had the afternoon off, we drove to Argent-sur-Sauldre where I handed in the items, and had my recorded letter signed and stamped to the effect that the items had been received. Now we wait. Again.

Wildlife diary: A day late, but better late than never. Yesterday morning we saw some movement on the other side of the fence past the pond. The binoculars were employed, and I counted nineteen wild boar – about seven large ones; and the rest were youngsters.

22/06/2014

As promised, here’s a report back on the carp. After it had been frozen for a week, LSS cooked it in the oven using a stuffed carp recipe. Mixed results: I’m pleased to report that there was no muddy taste; in fact the taste was very nice indeed. Only one problem remained: all the tiny little bones. Now if anyone knows of a way to get rid of these please let me know!

On the renovation front I’ve made a start on the conversion of the little outhouse which used to be the external toilet; it’s going to be used as an outside shower room. I’ve bricked up a large hole in the end wall which was apparently used to empty the latrine bucket, and have turned my thoughts towards waterproof render. Because one wall of the outhouse is the exterior wall of the barn, this wall needs to be made waterproof, and yet remain breathable. I don’t particularly want to use ceramic tiles as they’re not that cheap. So I wondered, “How did the Romans do this sort of thing? They were very fond of baths, but did not have access to modern chemicals for waterproofing, and I don’t recall seeing glazed ceramic tiles on the walls in Aquae Sulis.” (Today this city is called Bath, of course.)

Well, after a bit of research I discovered a process called tadelakt. Originating in Morocco, it uses hydraulic lime. In simple terms, the wall is rendered with the lime (which can be coloured), and then floated smooth. Before it’s totally dry, a soap paste is rubbed into the surface and then polished with a flat stone. The chemical reaction between the lime and the soap forms a compound called calcium stearate (which repels water). So I’m keen to give this a try.

I’ve also finished constructing an extension to the woodshed complex; there are now three large bays, so this should be sufficient space for all our firewood needs. Now I just need to collect more fallen trees/branches; there are still some at the aged FIL’s farm.

The solar panel is still working fine; if we have three overcast/partly cloudy days in succession the thermal store does not quite get up to a satisfactory temperature for sufficiently hot water; but then lighting the boiler stove for an hour (three or four logs of wood suffice) is enough to bring the thermal store back up to a comfortable level (over 50 degrees). We’ve only had to do this once since the solar panel was commissioned. However, I have noticed a slight design flaw. Once the sun is no longer hitting the panel, the temperature of the panel drops. No, this is not the design flaw. The design flaw is that after a while, the panel temperature starts rising again whilst the temperature of the bottom of the tank falls. This is very gradual; about 0.1 °C every few minutes. Because the panel is higher than the thermal store, I think that convection is occurring within the pipe.
Although the positive aspect of this is that the panel will not freeze during winter, it does mean that the thermal store is losing more heat than I’d like. I will therefore install a swing check valve in the pipework where the heated solar water enters the heat exchanger, and see if this makes a difference. I will also be adding some insulation to the PEX pipework.

18/06/2014

LSS decided to cut the grass with the petrol-powered lawnmower. All went well for a while until she moved into the courtyard, where there is quite a bit of gravel.

The lawnmower blade contacted one of these small stones, and propelled it outwards at great speed. Straight through the rear window of the Renault 5.
“Hello, insurance company? Um, you replaced the windscreen of the Renault 5 earlier this year.”
“Yes, that’s right, we have your details here.”
“And then you replaced the driver’s door window on my father’s Citroen.”
“Yes, why?”
“Well, I hate to tell you this, but the Renault 5 needs a new rear window.”
“!”

From now on when she cuts the grass, all vehicles will be removed to a safe distance. And the house window shutters will be closed first!

14/06/2014

In the afternoon we had a visit from the purchaser of an old farm trailer which LSS had listed for sale. It’s capable of carrying 5.5 tons, and weighs 1.3 tons empty. We’re never going to use it.

The chap turned up with a large truck, and it was my job to put the trailer onto the lorry using the purchaser’s ramps. These had seen better days, and were incredibly bent. Fortunately the tractor has a towbar attachment at the front as well as the rear, so I found it much easier to push the trailer up the ramps instead of having to reverse it on! Now we’re just waiting for the purchaser of the non-running JCB to come and collect it (we’re selling it for parts; it would be too expensive to repair, which is a pity). That should be the last of the large equipment. But there is still more stuff which needs to go, including a fertilizer spreader, sprayer, cement mixer, branch chopper, and possibly an hydraulic log splitter. Not all of it is working, so some of it could well go to scrap.

The aged FIL and LSS have had a bit of a falling-out. About a week ago he decided he wanted his “office” cleared, ready for the installation of the new electricity supply therein. He didn’t want the control board in the kitchen (which is where the electrician proposed it was installed) because of the risk of fire. (?) He would rather have it in his office (which is a padlocked room adjacent to the house). Don’t ask. LSS informed him that she didn’t have time to do it straight away, but would get around to it well before the electrical work was due to be done (we still don’t have a date). Unfortunately this was not good enough, so the aged FIL called Mr. M (the woodcutter) to ask him to do it.

Last Sunday (the day after he had helped us install the solar panel), Mr. M came around to discuss the aged FIL’s request with LSS. He said that unfortunately he did not know where to put any of the stuff which was gathering dust in the office, so LSS had no option but to go to the aged FIL’s farm and help. This took most of the morning (and she had planned on working in the vegetable garden instead). The office is now empty; we have lots of paper for wood-stove lighting, and LSS has not spoken to the aged FIL since. She still takes him his shopping, but doesn’t say a word.

Speaking of gardening, the vegetable garden has come on leaps and bounds. We have 15 rows of potatoes (over 300 plants) and rows of beetroot, parsnips, carrots, courgettes, beans, and peas (which have already produced pods). Watermelons and tomatoes are also present, as are lettuces and apparently cucumbers. For the first time LSS seeded some pumpkins and sweetcorn, and there’s some rhubarb in one corner. So she has done a lot of work!

Since the completion of the solar panel installation a couple of days ago I’ve felt at a bit of a loss. Not that I’m short of things to do; the woodstore needs extending (and more wood needs to be cut). I need to create a gate in the back fence, increase the height of the roof in the outside shower, and create a panel wall for the future corridor into the barn. But I haven’t been idle; the woodchipper has converted a pile of branches into wood chips for the compost, the elderflower champagne has been bottled, and the parsnip wine has been racked – fermentation has nearly finished!

And the solar panel is still producing heat for the thermal store. Even though today was partly cloudy, the water temperature at the top of the store is 52.6 degrees.

12/06/2014

What a day! We finally have solar-heated hot water! In the morning I filled the solar panel loop with 8 litres of antifreeze (propylene glycol) and connected the rest of the wiring for the controller board. Unfortunately there was some air in the system, so this entailed switching the pump off for a while in order to let the air bubbles rise into the expansion tank. During this time the temperature of the solar panel rose to a massive 92°C.

I then experimented with different pump speeds. It’s a Laing D5 Vario 12V pump, and has five speed settings. After some trial and error, I found that pump speed 3 provided the best all-round operation. Speed 5 was cooling the panel too quickly.

I also discovered that one of the temperature gauges had failed, so I swapped a couple of gauges around so that the non-working one was the least important reading (the room temperature of the upstairs area).

In the afternoon I bottled this year’s batch of Elderflower Champagne, but I could not resist peeking at the control panel every so often to see the changing temperatures in the thermal store!
Solar Thermal Panel Controller
Yesterday LSS bought a second-hand wardrobe for €20; we went to fetch it with the trailer. We’ll be able to save a bit of space in the bedroom by using the wardrobe instead of the long free-standing clothes rail which we currently have. And space needs to be saved; the bedroom will become smaller shortly when I start constructing the corridor to the barn.

Wildlife diary: A very strange-looking bird was stalking around the edges of the pond in the morning. Some swift research revealed it to be a black-crowned night heron – the first one we’ve seen!

07/06/2014

As yesterday was extremely hot and sunny, we had a barbecue in the evening, followed by bowls of strawberries. Food miles travelled by strawberries: approximately 1 metre. (There’s a large flower pot near the barbecue, and the strawberries therein have really produced nice fruit this year).

We also did a spot of fishing in the pond. The result was four decent-sized carp (around 1kg each). We are going to try putting them in the freezer for a couple of weeks in the hope that this will remove the muddy taste. I’ll report back on the results! After all, during medieval times carp were an important food source; and if they didn’t taste very nice I’m sure they would not have been so popular.

We had also arranged for Mr. M (Neighbour J’s brother) to come and give us a hand in the afternoon with putting the solar panel onto the roof. He’s a woodcutter by trade, and a very helpful chap in general; but we don’t see very much of him so I don’t think he qualifies for his own abbreviation entry in the list to the right!

He arrived just after lunch, followed by T&M. The solar panel was carried from the barn and placed on the ladders without incident. Unfortunately hoisting it up the ladders onto the roof did not go as smoothly. Due to the heat, the bituminous paint with which I had coated the underside of the frame started sticking to the ladders, so it was no easy task sliding it along these. Still, it got there in the end at the cost of a few rope blisters (mine), and the solar panel is now mounted on the roof. It had been up there for less than half an hour when steam started escaping from the connectors at the ends of the copper tubing (there was still some water left in the panel from the pressure testing). The connectors had purposefully not been fully tightened, and were already far too hot to touch! Unfortunately I won’t be able to connect everything up tomorrow as we’re going to a restaurant in Salbris for the annual reunion lunch with LSS’s cousins. Hopefully on Monday! But a heartfelt thanks to both Mr. M and T&M for their assistance.

05/06/2014

The morning was spent setting up the ladders and pulley for Operation Solar Panel. Unfortunately the ladders are about half a metre shorter than I’d like, so the angle from the ground to the frame on the roof isn’t quite correct. Only time will tell whether this creates a problem or not.

The windscreen wiper motor on the tractor is another one of those non-functioning items which you only find out about when you need it. I have removed it and had a look inside; it’s pretty rusted. LSS was going into Salbris to do some shopping, so I asked her to drop it off at Mr. C to see if he had anything similar as a replacement. Apparently T (one half of T&M) was there as well. Mr. C thinks the wiper motor can be repaired, so LSS left him to it.

Later in the afternoon T arrived, bearing the repaired wiper motor. I reinstalled it on the tractor; now all we need is a new wiper blade and if it rains we’ll be able to see where we’re going!

03/06/2014

In the morning I repaired yet another tractor tyre (one of the spares) with the “assistance” of three of the chickens, who seemed convinced there were Things To Eat inside the tyre. I finally got rid of them by starting up the new compressor, and directing some compressed air in their direction.

We have been using the aged FIL’s Citroën as a runabout for the last few months, in order to give the Renault 5 a rest. This turned out to be a good thing; as it was normally housed in the aged FIL’s garage. Which, if you remember, recently burnt down. However, about two weeks ago, LSS shut the door of the Citroën, and the drivers door window shattered into a million tiny pieces. Fortunately this sort of thing is covered by the aged FIL’s insurance policy, so no costs were involved. At noon today was the scheduled visit by the agent from Carglass. This is the equivalent to Autoglass in the UK (in fact it’s the same company, and even their television advertisements are the same. Except they’re in French, of course.) The company offers a mobile windscreen repair service, and also fix other vehicle glazing issues. But the icing on top was that Carglass were so delighted that we were using their services, they offered us new windscreen wipers, free of charge. LSS said we didn’t need new wipers for the Citroën, but if they were offering, we’d like some for the Hyundai. So we now have new wipers for her car.  This is the second vehicle glass replacement this year. The first time, LSS decided to wash the Renault 5. When she directed the hosepipe onto the windscreen, it cracked in two (the windscreen, not the hosepipe). Things happen in threes, they say. I wonder if we’ll be calling the insurance company again soon.

After the Citroën had been repaired, LSS decided to use the tractor to cut the grass in the fields and alleyways using the brushcutter attachment. She stopped here for a break, and mentioned that the tractor was starting to smell a bit hot. After some discussion she decided to return to the aged FIL to add some oil (which we haven’t done for a while). On the way there she realised that the reason the tractor was smelling hot was that she had once again forgotten to release the transmission handbrake. I think I should just disconnect it.

The thermal store control panel has been assembled and given its first coat of paint. I constructed it out of plywood, and although I think it would have looked better with a natural finish, we’ve found that the only way to keep mould from appearing on wooden surfaces is by painting them. When we visit the UK towards the end of the year we’ll be stocking up on tins of paint as well; it’s horribly expensive in France.

I also gave the solar panel glass one final clean, and applied a coat of Rain-X. This should help to keep the glass clean for a bit longer! The bottle of Rain-X is a remnant of my motorcycle commuting days; I used to use it on the windshield of the ST1100, and also on my helmet visor.

Another little task achieved today was to fix some wheels to the generator frame. There was an old pram in the barn when we moved in (it used to be occupied by LSS when she was little!) and the solid-tyred spoked wheels have come in very handy. At least the generator can now be moved from place to place without having to carry it!

02/06/2014

In the morning we once again gave each other our bi-monthly haircuts, so we should now start saving a bit on shampoo! At least my hat fits me again.

I’ve also received a sales report for the month of May for my book “A Bathtub in Our Garden”; and would like to take the opportunity to thank all of you who purchased a copy from Amazon. You know who you are! Now tell your friends to buy one!

Wildlife diary: I had a real surprise this afternoon. I was in the workshop, making a frame for the thermal store control panel, when I heard the chickens outside (we let them out at lunchtime once they’ve laid their eggs). Two of them were making the noise they usually make when they see something they don’t like. “Pork? Pork? Pok-pok-pok-pok-pok-paaaaawwkkk!”

I didn’t have time to go outside to see what the matter was. A small, fat little creature bustled in through the workshop doorway, went right past my feet, under the workbench, out from under the workbench again, bumped into a bucket, reversed, clambered over some pieces of wood, and then disappeared under a shelving unit. It was almost as though it was saying to itself “Places to go! Must keep moving! Places to be! Come on feet, don’t let me down now!”

It was a hedgehog.

The chickens had obviously disturbed it in the shrubbery, and it decided to look for more peaceful surroundings. I cut a small corner off the bottom of the workshop door so that it can get out by itself, which I expect it will; there’s nothing for it to eat in there!