Wednesday, July 30, 2014

More work in the garden with weed control fabric....And DIY biting insect control

It seems so difficult to do much at the minute, 35 Degrees C outside,  out of direct sun, in the direct sun its much hotter the thermometer showing 40 to 50 C most days , middle of the day is the only time to work and its just so hot, working early morning or evening there are just too many biting insects round!
We have the usual mosquitoes and bigger black biting flies.

But worst of all we have an invisible pest that has now been identified!....I thought it must have been fleas from all the animals around.

No....I eventually caught one! , looked it up on the Internet and its..... sand flies....
Minute transparent flies that look like a small aphid size mosquito , almost clear in colour and so so small....they bite and bite and bite and you cant see them and don't feel it till 10 minutes later, they go up the inside of your trouser legs, shirt sleeves , even found them inside my socks! , You can look and not see them, go to the other end of the same patch of ground and look and there will be great balls / mini swarms of them flying round.

DIY biting insect control.... that works!!
After days of being bitten, I found an answer on the Internet...
90% olive oil and 10% Neem oil ( great as a pesticide on plants as well, I have used it on plants for years ),
It stinks, but strange not that bad and not very strong, and it works very well!
I went from 50 bites a day to a couple of bites in the last week, the flies are still there, they just don't land, nor do the other biting and non biting flies!
As an anti itch factor ( Neem already does this a bit ) , if you already have bites you can add some tea-tree oil, it cools the itching from the bites already there.

Weed Control Fabric
After having to remove so many weeds every day, I am trying some weed control fabric , it looks a little thin so light can still get through it, so I don't think it will work.....but it may slow weed growth a bit.

I bought this fabric a few years ago in Asda , reduced to 50p for a sheet 6m by 3m , I bought a load of packs but have never tried it, I thought I would try it today.

I dug over some of the area the potatoes had been in, removed more and more weed roots, watered the area and placed the fabric over the area, held down with broken roof tiles from the barn roof removal the other week.

After putting the fabric down, I watered it again and stamped it into the surface of the soil till it was muddy, now water will run through it when it rains.

I cut a 6 inch hole for each plant to go in and stamped it lower in these areas so water would run off the fabric to pool around the area of the plants.

Then the broccoli, butternut squash and ridge cucumber seedlings were planted, maybe less weeds this time.....
Weed Control Fabric Down, A Bit Untidy....
Squash...or Cucumber! , 2 types mixed up....I think its the squash!
Cucumber???? , 2 types mixed up....I think its the Marketmore ridge cucumber!

Purple sprouting broccoli
Air Root pruning pots
They seem to be great!,  I plant to use them for everything eventually.....but not that soon s I have hundreds of standard plant pots.
In root pruning pots, plants have no circling roots , many many more roots, a massive amount of roots inside due to continuous root pruning and new roots growing, once a root in a normal pot grows around the pot it will always grow round ,in an air root pruning pot you only get straight roots, so when you change pot size or plant out , every root is straight and ready to grow outwards, no damage to roots is needed unlike with a `normal` plant pot.

All my citrus plants seem to be growing away well, but best results are in the air root pruning pots, like this mini Meyer lemon.
As the roots hit the bottom....they don't!, they are guided out and pruned by the air,
The root branches and continuous new roots grow straight outward  and never circle.
You can see the root `funnels` on the side with roots just visible, no circling roots 

Sweetcorn seems to be growing fine, not many yet, but a second crop is growing as well

Sweetcorn cobs swelling, 2 to 4 per plant so far 

The only work on the house today will/may be to finish plastering the kitchen

I plastered half of the kitchen.......Then I got distracted by the cut off saw and pillar drill in the corner of the room....wondering if they would run off the inverter (due to the start up load on the motors and only being a 1500W inverter.....) . If it would it would get rid of the 3 meter long bit of banister wood I bought 2 years ago , it has been in the kitchen ever it was getting covered in plaster....If i made the banister it would be gone!
So....In testing the inverter and the tools,  I made a new wooden banister for the outdoor stairs, doing that I noticed the mildew on some of the grapes so tried full fat milk powder on the grapevines to see if it works this time.
By the time I went back to the plaster I couldn't be bothered with doing any more

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Almost another month off grid.. staying that way!. and more goings on in the garden....

It seems to be quite easy here in Bulgaria to live off grid , well for water, solar panels for electric, generator for backup ( soon to be converted to run on bio-gas ).
We have nothing installed I don't know were to put it yet or if the systems are as  correct as they need to be.

Thee well is connected to a 240v inverter driven well pump, to use water i flick the mains switch and then turn on the tap, the drop in pressure triggers the well pump that pumps through a multi stage filter system that cleans bacteria using UV light......great setup if it was installed and not in a heap on the table with water hose and wires everywhere.

Hot water is on the same system, using a propane gas bottle water heater ( will be replaced by biogas , wood or solar heating )

The solar electric seems to be working fine , no problems with anything going flat we are always showing more going in during the day than we use , even including what is used at night, but it wont be so easy in the winter when the light levels drop, more batteries and panels needed and the generator as a top up will be needed in the darkest months

Even running another inverter to charge the laptop for a few hours a day , no problems the electric still charges the battery and volts rise on the battery even when charging the laptop through the rather larger than need be 1500w inverter

The citrus trees are all coming along fine, the one that had no leaves when it got here, has sprouted new growth at almost every bud about 2 weeks ago, now every bit of new growth is about 4 inch long and growing quickly.
7 foot tall lemon tree, all old leaves fell off when left in van for a week, now new growth everywhere
New growth photo taken 2 days ago, now almost twice as long as this.

A few of the trees still haven`t started growing any new shoots, they are on a root growing cycle at present as they were re-potted just before bringing them here,

Today I have started assembling the winter greenhouse for the plants , made from a 20 foot by 10 foot marquee style garage bought at Costco about 10 years ago, I have about 8 of them in the UK as we used to use them at outdoor exhibitions as trade stands, I have only one here for now as an experiment to see if it works.
The bars are 2 inch steel tubes, I plan to dig down into the soil a bit ( maybe ) and concrete the bars in, wooden frame will be added and polyethylene cover pulled over, wooden frame doors at the end will be added as well

The last week I have been potato harvesting, the yield was not as good as it should have been due to Colorado beetle eating the shoots while I was in the UK , Still I have 100 KG so far, and only half dug up , mostly very small varieties such as Pink Fir Apple and Red Duke of York , some supermarket ones have given a low quantity of large ones and very small ones as well, 3* or 4* 5 inch long potatoes and maybe 10* 1 inch potatoes these are Bluebell and another I forget what it is.

Potatoes...Pink Fir Apple....mainly

Some more citrus photos taken today

Small Aldi lemon tree variety has much larger lemons than my large trees, not as nice though

Meyer lemon cutting , growing in 1 litre air root pruning pot

Bears lime mini tree

Smaller lemon tree

Large Calamondin, just starting to flower

Loads of lemons....

Mini limes on Tahiti lime tree
Tomatoes are doing quite well, they had early blight but after a spray of copper/lime they are OK now, they are all twisted together in some weeds....but plenty of tomatoes if you can find them!

The beans I planted a couple of moths ago are full of pods, just twisted into weeds so hard to beans are now planted!

Fig tree, bigger every year
Lots of figs

Air layering plants is a favourite technique of mine, things root while still connected to the parent plant, so are easier to get established, I am currently doing a few air layers on the fig tree and the trumpet vine.
The fig tree is fully hardy , no protection and it gets very very cold here, so I am trying to root a fairly large branch for another tree, as well as a couple of smaller ones

I cut a strip of bark about 20mm high from right around the branch, dust with rooting powder and then pack damp compost around it, holding it in place with a plastic cup or bag, its then made airtight with cling film , 4 to 6 weeks later you will be able to see roots in the cup, when you can , cut the branch off and remove the cup etc and pot it up. Easy!

Air layering in a plastic cup of compost in cling film...

The next crop of plants is ready to go in, this time I am using weed control cloth!

Broccoli ( purple sprouting )  marketmore cucumber ( probably long enough season to get some still ) , and some squash....maybe long enough season here in BG , rainbow chard and beetroot

Purple sprouting broccoli

Chard on the left, cucumber,squash, beetroot on the left bottom to top

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Summer 2014....July

We eventually got here again after breaking down in Germany, now about 2 weeks ago.....I think!

A man with a van came from Popovo to Wurzburg in Germany and we moved things from my van to his and off we went to Bulgaria back to Popovo, next day to Vetren.

Large Lemon tree no 1
One solar panel is set up to charge batteries, running the 12Vcool box, the secret to solar power working seems to be buy 12V things to use it with, converting to 240V wastes a lot  of power.

Due to the weather, the garden seems to have grown....a lot!

The citrus trees I just left here in the garden with no watering system , seem fine!

Lemon tree

Variegated calamondin in air root pruning pot
Large calamondin tree

The areas I cleared are now worse for plants than the areas I only strimmed, but the veg is all rowing away in between the weeds, the weeds seem to keep the sun off the soil and let them stay wet enough to grow, even though its been raining, it has still been hot

Since we got here it has not been under 20C at night or 35C at mid day, some days closer to 40C and one day it was 42C in the shade 50C in the sun, its hot!

Only 2 thunderstorms, very heavy and great for the garden, I have been running round using well water and buckets to water everything

The potatoes are ready, Raspberries ready, turnips, small but nice, many plums are ripe and some of the sour cherries are just going dark as they become sweeter and ready to eat, black sour cherries are great,

We get huge bowls every day of assorted fruit from the trees!

Plums and cherries

I have been boiling them with a tiny drop of water and sugar to make milk shake shop milk shake mix but much better!  

In the first week here i did very little.....
I arranged someone from my factory in Vidin to collect my car from the house in Vidin and they are now trying to find parts to fix it.....not easy parts need to be used as almost no new ones exist, and nobody sends parts to Bulgaria , once fixed it will come here , 
Until its is fixed.....its great! I am without transport..... and getting used to doing things locally without going to DIY stores and big supermarkets.

Second week here....
I have done a few repairs to the roof, just to make sure nothing falls off, a few tiles were broken in the hailstorms and gales, its too hot now to fix it, It is now planned for September/October for a whole new roof to be fitted as the weather cools a bit.

 I stripped half of the tiles from a small barn on the end of the house, the rest will come off this week, I am taking the roof off it before it falls off! , it will go back on in September

Roof being removed

Dahlia, from a mixed pack
Blue Moon rose

Peach tree much better after fungicide for leaf curl in May
Lemon tree No2

Needs weeding a bit....

Red + Yellow Plums, not quite ripe yet

Asiatic lilly, 1 inch bulb, now in year 5!
Replanted here , bulb is now 3 inch across!!
Tomatoes hiding in the weeds

 The garden is half strimmed and weeded, grape vines treated for mildew, some plastering in the downstairs, fixed the well of the well at the top , a few large stones had fallen out and are now back in place,

Mosquitoes have been bad this week, so I fixed the well wall and took some branches off near the house to let the sun through and they seem to have gone right down in number

Trumpet vine, just gets better every year!

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Off grid....Solar panels from ebay.....Biogas.....

I am writing this sitting here in a hotel in Germany..... waiting to be collected to go to BG ,

The van engine has had it......hit a giant puddle of water and engine swallowed it....whole thing is bent inside, even the cam belt snapped when it hydraulic locked , ADAC wont tow it....even though I am a member , they say value of van is less than the moving costs!

I have been investigating and testing for some time ways of going self sufficient. Its only something I could do a bit at a time and obviously only at home not in a glue factory....but I want to try and see how it goes reducing use of outside services

Back in May I bought a fold up 50W portable solar set from eBay for about £80 as an experiment to see if solar actually worked at all, I presumed at that price it must be quite bad,,,,

I cant see the point of saying oh....I have saved money on the bills only 30 years to get it back.....when spending tens of thousands of pounds on things to do it that could be done far cheaper, the environment is better off a bit by using solar but in my mind everything should be as low cost as possible as long as it works well! , self install is going to save money and allow people to understand the system better so I think it should be DIY install if possible.

Cheap solar portable seemed to work OK , we only used it charging a 70Ah 12v lead acid for a couple of 12v 20w CFL light bulbs and they seemed to work well and it didn't run out, even though it wasn't exactly sunny a lot of the time, but it was only experiment No.1......
We were also using portable solar lights from Maplins that look like rear view mirrors from cars, they seem good for what they are..... but a bit low on power, 2 of them lit a room enough to eat if the other one ran out, but it didn't run out so we didn't actually use them much.

When I was back in the UK for the past month I bought a couple of bigger solar panels ( ended up with 1*100W and 2*250W ) from eBay , one from the UK and one from China , they both seemed to actually function running a small bulb ( quick test! ), now this week I shall see how they work, I should have another 600W of solar power this time , will buy more if needed, I cant need much for running my own needs in 12v

I bought a complete set with all the charge battery controllers and wires from China and another just the panel from in the UK ,extra connectors , fuses and wires,  2 extra 130AH leisure batteries from Halfords and 10 assorted 12v CFL bulbs from a company called gosolar a 100W , a 1500W and a 2000W inverter again from ebay to get 240V if needed, but I hope to avoid using them as they waste power.

I have decided to have no 240v lighting in the house, only using 12v system and just add as more power is needed, use backup charger running on bio gas powered generator to run it in less sunny weather or if the batteries get low.

Should be interesting..... 

Stove for now has been the wood burner that I don't use much and  a gas powered twin burner gas grill with a backup Coleman petrol powered one if needed
Eventually the bio gas will run the stove ( with widened gas jet ) for most of the year and cost nothing really to make or run as it takes all the waste veg material , for now I'm using bottled gas

I will be doing a step by step on the Bio gas as I try to build it and get it to work....I have tried a small 25L one a couple of years ago and it worked well, this will be much bigger probably more like 200 to 500 Litres

I just hope nothing too much has fallen off the old house near Stara Zagora..... in the bad weather there has been, I have only been away about a month but there has been some really bad weather....

I cant even get a car into the house in Vidin, I actually have a car parked there , flood damaged, but probably ok by now as it will have dried out., the the road has fallen away too much about a mile away from it as we are right up in the hills, river came into garden and flooded it a bit so its also a bit wet at the minute.....