Browsing Posts published in May, 2012

Sweltering in the sunshine.

I’d finished everything I had to do here at Wardian Towers by early afternoon yesterday, so thought I’d get my gardening ‘glad rags’ on and hoof it down to my plot.Hot enough for you?

This last few weeks or so, what with one thing or another, I haven’t had much time to spend on my allotment, and by the state of it, it certainly shows!

On entering my greenhouse, I glanced across at the thermometer hung on the door post, and was greeted by this.


It was way too hot to actually do much work -things like the ‘industrial weeding’ would have to wait for a cooler day.

I did however notice my sad little olive tree, now surrounded by long grass and weeds, so I thought I’d clear around it.  It would give it some light, and give the freesia around it a chance to thrive in the glorious sunshine.

Cleared.And here you can see it after I’d finished.  You can see the freesia around the outside of the ring, but you’ll have to look really closely to see the olive.  Its towards the centre left of the patch of earth.  It’s branches make a ‘Y’ shape.

You’d think from this photo that it was merely a dead stick sat in the middle of this rough circle, but on getting up close and personal with it, it shows its still alive.New shoots on the olive tree.

And to the right here is the proof!  These new shoots have only recently shown themselves, and on looking further down that same stem, I can see other buds just starting to form.

At this rate, we’ll have a massive crop of olives by about…  …Oh, the year 2045 or so.

Still, with ‘Climate Change’ (…NOT ‘Global Warming’!..), we may have to bring this date forward by a couple of years.

Whatever.  Just the sight of this tree brings back happy memories of Cyprus, and that’s good enough for me.


The recent warm spell is continuing, and down at LEAF, we’re loving it.

Of course, not a Big Lot gets done, but given all the hard work we do at most other times of the year, we don’t feel guilty in the slightest.Wall-to-wall sunshine.

The sun was shining all day, and despite liberal, repeated slatherings of Factor 20, my shoulders, back, neck, face, and arms are glowing this morning.

This is a view of the sky yesterday morning from my allotment.  I went down there briefly to check the greenhouses (Sweltering!) and to catch a few rays on my own.  Because there were children and small animals up at The LEAF Plots, it was here I managed to get my top off and get burned, quietly sat on my own, thinking, while listening to Classic FM on the little transistor radio we have down there.  Only half an hour or so, but well needed.

So yesterday was another chance for us to get to grips with our new, improved pizza oven.  New and improved because the two extra layers of clay/straw and clay had made it a totally different animal to cook with.

As I’ve previously said, last year it was all about getting it up to temperature and keeping it there -meaning loads and loads of wood, almost constantly feeding it.

Now it’s all about getting it up to temperature and completely resisting the urge to throw more wood on!All fired up!

This is it before all the ‘fun’ started as it’s getting up to the correct heat.  Later, as the wood died down, and the oven appeared almost empty, I had to physically stop myself throwing in more fresh stuff.  Whenever the urge came upon me, I’d take my gloves off, and try to put my hands near it.  This proved that even though it didn’t look like much was happening, the heat was certainly there to cook with.

Both Sara and Matt had made dough for the pizzas, and it goes without saying that both mixes were excellent.

Because we had so much dough, we were able to make ‘proper’, thicker bases for the pizzas, and that, coupled with the lower cooking temperature meant that nearly all of them came out with everything cooked, without the ‘doughy’ centres we had last weekend.

During the madness/fun that was the actual cooking, Jon came up with an excellent idea.Cooking!

He had made a pizza, and had me cook it for him, but just before I would have considered it ready, he had me take it out and fold it over like a calzoné.  This enabled half of the pizza bottom to lightly brown.  A couple of minutes later, we turned it fully over to allow the other side to brown.  The resulting pizza was superb.  I think you’ll be hearing much more about this style of pizza in the coming weeks!

After all the pizzas (..there were about 15 in total, I think…), Pam had brought down a freshly baked rhubarb crumble with custard.

I’ve kind of run out of superlatives here, but you get the idea:  Gorgeous!

Not to be outdone, Jon the made some fresh rhubarb and ginger drop scones.Jon's rhubarb and ginger scones before cooking.

As you can clearly see, these little beauties looked excellent before they went in, but I’m afraid we’re still getting used to the fierce heat of this oven.

This is another way of saying that it was too hot!

Whoops!  Drop scones a little overdone!You can see them here to the right, and as you can see, the heat was way too much for them.

In hindsight, we should have let the oven cool down for another half hour or so before we put these in.

Still, like a science experiment, we don’t class it as a failure.  I was a learning experience!

Next time (…for there most definitely will be a next time!..), we’ll wait that bit longer.  Also, just as we did with Matt’s pie last week, we’ll put them on Ian’s groovy stand, and we’ll put them in the doorway to cook, turning them at regular intervals, just like we did last week.

As I keep banging on about, this Wednesday is our big Open Evening, so we have to get everything spot-on for that.

The fact that we have to keep cooking and eating food just to make sure we’ve got it absolutely correct, is a happy coincidence.

Totally chilled. 26/05/12

Yesterday, I spent virtually the whole day running around doing jobs I didn’t really want to do, seeing people I didn’t really want to see and finishing off boring stuff I wished I’d never started.

But then I was cool with this, for I knew that come late afternoon I’d be doing a job I did want to do, seeing over one hundred thousand guys I really wanted to see, and I certainly wouldn’t be bored!

So in the glorious sunshine of the late afternoon Diane, Matt, Jon and I had an appointment with our bees.A LEAF brood frame

What made this inspection all the more ‘fun’ was the for the first time, we’d be completely without our head beekeeper, Charles.  He’d be unavoidably called off somewhere urgent, so we were on our own.


What made it even more frightening was that we are just coming into swarming season!

Now, we weren’t frightened by the bees possibly swarming per se.  When bees swarm, you are less likely to get stung than at any other time!

When they swarm, the bees themselves are prepared for a possibly long journey, so they ‘fill up’ on nectar and pollen, and are so docile they have no intention of using their stingers.  Just imagine yourself after a huge Sunday roast.  All you want to do is ‘veg out’ in front of the TV.  Same with the bees, just without the TV!

No, we were concerned about swarming because we could potentially lose quite a few weeks’ worth of honey production.

We decided that Matt, Jon and I would take a hive each, while Diane oversaw the whole procedure, cameras at the ready.

Matt went first, and on opening his hive, we were pretty surprised to see that the ‘super’ (…honey store…) on the hive had hardly been worked on.A view of a brood frame.

Moving down, under the queen excluder, Matt opened up the top brood box, and we saw the reason why the top super had been so quiet.  The bees had been working down here, busily filling the new box with comb, then filling it with all manner of interesting stuff.

If you click on this photo to the left, you’ll see one of the frames that Matt removed.

The capped cells have larvae in them, ready to hatch in a few days.  Around this capped brood, you can clearly see the little ‘maggots’, swimming in nectar that will be capped soon, then further to the left of these, you can just make out even younger eggs that have only just been laid.

Fascinating, yes?

Now, can you spot the three male drones on this frame?

Two of them are in the centre of this photo pointing upwards, with the third still in the centre, but towards the bottom of the frame pointing downwards.  You can tell they’re drones because they’re bigger, and they have a characteristic ‘blunt bottom’, whereas the female workers have a much more pointy rear end.

When we saw this, we were greatly relieved.  It means that the queen is laying well, and on inspecting the cells, there were no signs of disease.A 'play cup' on the bottom of a brood frame.

This shot to the right shows another frame looking at it from the bottom.  The first thing to look for was just the sheer numbers of bees.  This appears to be a thriving colony!

The centre of this photos shows a ‘play cup’.  This is a dummy queen cell, and we checked it very thoroughly to make sure there wasn’t a young queen inside.  Thankfully, all clear!

Moving on to other frames, we noted that on a the bottoms of quite a few of the frames were these:-Capped drone cells.

These are capped drone cells.  You can easily spot these because they stand proud of the comb with little domes on them.  You can also see some young drone larvae about to be capped in the surrounding cells.  Notice as well all the nectar, glistening in the surrounding cells.  Just last week, this was fresh, new foundation!

Quick question: Can you spot the drones on this photo?  Top marks if you say up towards the top left of this photo!

Diane had spoken with Charles before we did this inspection, and he told her that if there were any queen cells present, then odds on, they’d be hanging from the bottom of the top brood frames we were inspecting.  There were none visible, so we were greatly relieved!

However, we saw lots of ‘bridging comb’ on the tops of the lower brood frames.Removing the bridging comb with the hive tool.  I removed this using the hive tool, as you can see in this photo to the right.  By taking this out, it should make it easier to take the brood boxes off in future.  Then again, the rate these hives are filling up, it’ll be re-made very, very quickly.

And so, to the ‘Main Lady’ of the day’s events.

Where was she?

Luckily, Charles had made sure on the last inspection that each of the three queens were marked with a white spot on their backs.

The white spot shows the queen.And here she is!

This is in the last hive that Jon inspected.  We assume other two had moved into the lower brood boxes as we opened them up.  As a rule, queens don’t much like the light or disturbance of a hive inspection, so they tend to hide away out of sight.

I’m sorry about the low quality of this shot.  Jon was moving this frame around quite a lot as I took it.

I’ll try to get a better one next time!

And so, to the title of this post.  You’re no doubt thinking by this that all we did was sit around ‘chilling out’, drinking tea!

Far from it!

No, the title for this post came from the almost overwhelming sense of peace and tranquility I felt as I walked home last night.

Yes, we’d spent over an hour in hot, sweaty suits, lifting pretty heavy frames, so the activity itself was far from ‘chilled out’.

Chatting with Diane about this later last night when she briefly came round to pick some stuff up, we both agreed that the ‘bee activity’ itself was ‘supremely chilling’.

There’s something so relaxing about working with bees.

Maybe this is why every beekeeper I’ve met has been this way.

I’ll chat with the others when I go over there today, and see what they say.

Maybe the ‘LEAF Effect’ is now combined with the ‘LEAF Bee Effect’?



Last Tuesday the 22nd saw parties of schoolchildren learning and having fun under the watchful eyes of Diane and a whole host of teachers and classroom assistants.  Part of their learning was to weed two small beds, and while little hands make light work, we’re not complaining!  We’ll be able to get stuff in these at the weekend.  A big “Thank You!” to them for this work!

After about a pint of squash after the children had left, it was my job to see the damage on the clay oven now it had fully cooled down, and if possible, put it right.The surface of Mars?

As you can see to the right, it took quite a ‘hammering’, but as I’ve already said, this is only to be expected and natural.  As the water gets gradually driven out of the clay and sand, its bound to crack.  To try to prevent it, we’d need PVA or similar, and we’re not going down that route.

If you click to enlarge this photo, down to the right you’ll see a hand print.  This is not wanton vandalism!  This is, in fact, Matt’s hand print, proudly displaying to the world that he finished it off, thank you!

Patched!We have quite a bit of puddled clay already mixed from way back when we made the first layer, so I wasted no time in getting a bucket-load of it, and started to patch it up.

This shows the right hand side of the oven and you can see just how massive some of these cracks were.  Nothing was loose or falling off, and once you got your head around just how deep some of these were -and how much ‘gobbo’ they took, it was fairly pleasant work.

Pretty soon, Matt, Diane and Gary came over to give me a hand, and between us, we got it all looking ship-shape.

To the right here is the same area as the first photo, but this time sans the massive canyons.Finished!

As you can see, Matt’s print is still there, and Gary very thoughtfully and carefully patched around it to preserve it’s unique shape.

To the left of this photo, you’ll just make out the isolated ‘blob’.  This was one of my patches.  Some little rat-bag had inscribed ‘sooky‘ in the clay, so I covered it up.  Mitzi takes a very dim view of vandals, and can be very vocal in those views.  Of course, this is after she’s clawed someone’s eyes out.

Back to happier matters, and the wonderful oven stand that Ian (no relation) made last weekend.Ian's wonderful oven stand.

And here it is!  You’d never guess that this was made using an old plastic and metal school chair and a piece of heavy-gauge grilling!  Notice how it all just seems to fit together so well.  Awesome!

This little stand was instrumental in the first successful cooking of one of Matt’s fabled rhubarb pies.  I’m sure that without it and the airflow it provides under a dish, it wouldn’t have cooked anything like as well as it did.

And so to today.  I briefly went down to The Plots for about lunchtime, and not surprisingly, given the heat, there wasn’t a Big Lot being down.

At one point, Diane was half-heartedly digging over a bed that will very soon be host to a load of salad stuff, and this little chap cheekily came over, loudly shrilling at us.Get on with the digging!

It seemed like he was shouting, “Get on with the digging!  I’ve got a family to feed here!”

Anyway, he left with ore than a beak full of worms and grubs, and luckily Mitzi wasn’t around to see him.

Still, what with the heat and all, even if she had seen him, it would be a case of, “…Yeah.  Whatever.  It’s far too hot to even think about chasing you!”

Tomorrow’s forecast is for more of the same, so I may well pop down to see my own badly-neglected plot in the afternoon.  I’ll find some shade, turn on Classic FM very quietly and doze.

Just like Mitzi!



Not A Big Lot of work done down our Plots today, and what little was done was in preparation for today’s ‘main event’ which was for the first using and cooking with the pizza oven in its 99.999% finished state.  I say 99.999% because Matt wants to add a taller chimney, and of course when its all cooled down, we need to patch yet more cracks in the outer layer of clay.Aaaargh!  Cracks in the clay!

As I arrived today, Ian (no relation) was busy by the oven, at work building a metal stand for use inside it to sit dishes on.  This would be to lift them off the extremely hot bricks and ash, allowing a ‘cooler’ airflow to cook dishes more slowly.

In theory.

To make this stand, he used a very old plastic and metal chair, some heavy-duty wire meshing we had, a hacksaw and a lump hammer.

Unfortunately I have no pictures of this yet, but I’ll get some next time I’m down.  We were too busy using it today, and I kind of had my hands full with the oven which at it’s ‘peak temperature’ we reckon hit more than 400°C.  You’ll agree, just a little hotter than your average one at home!

As you can see up to the right here, when I arrived, it was ‘Crack City’ across the top and sides, but we weren’t worried in the slightest!

I can vividly remember the first time we ever fired this oven up ‘In Rage’ last year for the open evening in Autumn and we’d just finished that first layer.  If you check back on the photos, you’ll see we just had the single layer and by the time I first lit it, it wasn’t even dry!

Now we have not one, but two layers of clay and clay and straw beneath this top layer, there’s no chance whatsoever it will collapse -as I feared that first evening last year.

As I started to fill up these cracks with some clay we had left over, I was joined by Jordan, Shaun and Matt.  Pretty soon we were all happily patching away as Ian worked nearby,  his stand now finished, working on a tool to easily get to trays and dishes while the oven is hot.

When we’d done most of the serious cracks, I lit it (…more to keep warm than anything else.  It was freezing today!..), and we carried on patching the smaller ones.Quickly up to temperature.

To the left here is less than an hour after we’d lit it.  If you click on the image you’ll see those two great chunks of wood I’d thrown in less than a minute before I took this shot.

Because it was just so stinking hot in the oven, when I put these two pieces in together, I timed it before they caught fire.

On a ‘normal’ fire, when you put pieces on like this, only the parts actually exposed to the flames burn straight away, with the ‘outer’ parts taking much longer to catch.  With these, less than a minute after they’d gone in, they totally ‘lit’ with flame licking all over them.

Yes.  That hot!

While these two great lumps of wood were burning down to hot cinders, Ian was busy making the afternoon’s first ‘dish’.  This would be a ‘starter’ of potatoes cut into largish chunks, parsnips, shallots and cloves of garlic, all roasted in heavy-duty tin foil with oil and herb seasoning.

Using Ian’s newly made baking tray to stand the packets on, these seemed to cook in no time at all.

Of course, they were delicious!

By this time, Sara had prepared the pizzas.  Using dough she’d made up earlier and left to ‘prove’ at home (…Awesome!..) and vegetables that Matt had been to the market for and some tomatillos he still got left from last year (!!!), Sara then invited LEAF volunteers to make their own pizzas for me to cook in the oven -much as we’d done so successfully last year and we plan to do a week on Wednesday for the Environment Weeks Open Evening.The year's first pizza.  Quickly, before it all disappears!

This seemed to work really well.  By allowing people to put their own toppings on, they were guaranteed to like everything that had gone on the pizza!

We made about 9 pizzas in total today, each one decorated and topped by a volunteer or Plot Kid, and everyone agreed, they were much better than the ones you buy from the supermarket.  Obviously.

By now, the oven had ‘simmered down’ a little, and Matt had brought a pie he’d prepared last night.  It was made with the year’s first rhubarb from his plot, a little sugar and he’d made a crumble topping.

The crumble just before it went in the oven.To the left is a shot of the raw crumble just before it went in the oven.

Now, when Matt makes one of these at home, it takes about forty minutes at a medium heat to cook.

I didn’t properly time it, but it certainly took less time than that in our oven.

At first, we put it in without a tin foil covering, and the top started to burn slightly, but I took it out and wrapped it, and kept turning it through 180° every few minutes to make sure both sides were cooking.

In not time at all it seemed, when I turned it round, the side that had been exposed to the full heat of the oven was already happily bubbling away.

It was soon cooked, but before I’d even had chance to get my camera out, it was being dived into by volunteers eager to taste it.

All I ended up with was this:-Whoops!  All gone!

Those two bowls were for Diane and Jon.

Needless to say, just like Sara’s pizza, Matt’s pie was ace!

Unfortunately, there’ll be no ‘Plotting’ tomorrow.  Diane and I have a Big Lot of paperwork to catch up with, and before that I have an important date with the electric bike and the PIC programmer back here at Wardian Towers.

But, the weather is set to improve greatly this next week.  Hooray for that!  We (…and our bees!..) love the sunshine and warmth.

It kind of makes you feel happier inside when the sun’s shining, I think.

Oh, and talking of ‘Happy’, I presented Matt with his new camera today after I’d fitted the new screen to it.

And yes.  He was happy!



Phew! 17/05/12

What a day!

Thursday is a regular ‘LEAF Day’ up at The Plots and if the weather’s good, then we normally get a good number of volunteers.  Today however, despite the rain forecast, The Plots seemed to be heaving with people!

But before most of them arrived, it was ‘Clay Time’, which funnily enough rhymes with ‘Play Time’, and this morning was definitely a morning for Grown Ups Playing With Clay.

PXI Nick was there, and he was very keen to ‘get his feet dirty’, take his shoes and socks off and get stuck in.PXI Nick, before he got stuck in, looking on in trepidation.

Well, he said he was keen, and certainly wasted no time in getting barefoot, but when Diane had laid out one of the batches I had done over the weekend, he didn’t look quite so enthusiastic.

As you can see here to the right!

He soon got into it though, after the initial ‘OUCH that’s cold!’ as he first put his feet into it.

The plan was to re-do the mixes I’d done and if necessary, mix some together in case some batches were ‘wetter’ than others.

Yay!  This is <i>great</i> fun!As you can see here to the left, after the initial shock of the cold of the clay, he very quickly got into it, and was soon happily dancing up and down.

Of course, it helped that there were so many other people around to encourage him on.

Meanwhile, Matt and I made a start on the ‘final’ coat of clay on the oven itself.

This top coat didn’t need the insulating straw in it -this was just a final ‘top coat’ to give it a nice finish, rather than the ugly ‘High Altitude Elephant’s Extreme Surprise’ we left it as the other afternoon.

Matt and I putting on the top coat.As the weather forecasters had said today would be showery, we put gazebos up on both the puddling area and over the oven itself.  It didn’t really matter to the clay that it should get wet, but as we’d rather stay dry, it seemed sensible.

Here we are to the right with our two different techniques.  Matt favoured the small lumps and carefully placed on, making sure it stuck properly.  I was more for the ‘throw it on and pick up off the floor what doesn’t stick’ method.  As Matt said, both valid ways, and both very entertaining to watch.  Ian and Graham (Both no relation.) sat and watched us right the way through, continually making ‘helpful comments’ like: “You missed a bit!” and “Is it meant to look like that?”

All said and done in the best possible way!

We realised that we’d need two more mixes to really finish it off, so we went back up to the top mixing area.  Nick quickly took his shoes and socks off again, and this time Ian decided to give it a try!  The three of us had great fun working on these two mixes, and I really must say it makes a whole world of difference having more than one of us doing this.Ian and I with Nick, busy in the background.

You’re no doubt wondering over all these photos, and how they were taken given that I’d promised to spare my new camera the indignity of sand and clay.  Thankfully, ‘Ace Lens Diane’ was on hand to take these shots.

Here are Ian and myself about halfway through ‘our’ mix, with Nick busy in the background.

After only a few minutes it seemed, these mixes were done and ready to be applied to the dome.

Matt had been busy down at the oven with the plasterer’s float, smoothing off this top layer, so we brought down the final mixes and while I slapped it on (…A scientific term, this…), he expertly went round the whole dome getting it to an almost mirror finish.Matt, proud of his work!

Here he is, happy in the knowledge that he’s done an absolutely perfect job!

With the clay work now finished, we wasted no time in getting it lit and starting to dry.  Shaun helped me get a fire going with some of the wood that Ian had cut a few weeks ago when we got the ultimate Big Boy’s Toy -the axe.

Pretty soon, I was feeding wood in a quite a rate -as you have to do to get a fire going really well.

I did notice though that once it was up to temperature, it didn’t need much more fuel to keep that temperature up, and also that it didn’t rapidly heat and cool as it had tended to do in the past.

Maybe it was my imagination, but I don’t think so.  We’ll see on Saturday when we use it ‘in rage’, properly finished for the first time.

A quick lunch, then Charles our new Head Beekeeper arrived.  Over to the hives, then!

Today, we would be swapping over the lower dark drown brood boxes that came with the bees for more of our new brood boxes.

The top of the hive off, along with the top super and queen-excluder.Because we currently have three hives, Jon, Shaun and I were each ‘chosen’ to go in the hives with Charles keeping an ever-watchful eye on us to make sure we didn’t make any stupid mistakes.

You may think that this is easy, but take it from me, there’s been so much to learn about these little creatures in so short a time, each of us was ‘on edge’ when faced with a hive with more than 30,000 bees in!

This shot to the left shows yours Charles and I after we’d taken the top of the hive off checking the top brood box for signs of the queen laying eggs in it.

Happily, there were plenty of newly laid eggs in abundance.Checking for brood and for the queen.

Here I am to the right here, checking the top brood box, and you can clearly see the frame with new comb on it built in only a few days by the workers.

At this point, I must say that even though this may look an easy thing to do, it’s really not!  Making sure you pick the frames up in the correct manner, disturbing the bees as little as possible is pretty difficult stuff -especially for ‘newbies’!

The queen wasn’t in this top box -she’d wisely gone straight down into the lower box to get away from all the confusion, noise and light from above.

So that meant she was in the bottom box -the one we were going to swap.

Carefully lifting the bottom brood box.This shot is as I lifted the old brood box off the hive floor.  I carefully placed this to one side, always conscious that there was a valuable queen in there.  If I was to accidentally squash her, we’d lose at least a couple of months’ worth of honey production.

With the old brood box safely off, Charles carefully inspected the hive floor for signs of varroa mite and finding only a couple, I replaced it with a brand new brood box.

To the right here you can see Shaun as he is placing the old frame into his new brood box, and you can see how carefully he’s inspecting the frame.Shaun carefully inspecting each frame.  He’d never been inside a hive before -he missed the last bee training course- so he was especially in awe of the bees.

To say he was a complete beginner, he did very well, though -You really wouldn’t have known it was his first time, he handled them that well!

Jon did all the above for the last frame, but for some reason, I have no shots of this.  Take it from me though that he handled himself very well!

All too soon (…it seemed!..), it was time for Charles to leave.  I thought he’d only been around a matter of minutes, but when I checked my watch, I found well over an hour had passed!  Astonishing.

After Charles had gone (…along with most of the afternoon, it seemed!..), we went back to check the clay oven.Finally finished and fired-up!

The roaring flames had died down pretty much, but the heat still coming off it was terrific!

We did notice that by the chimney the clay was starting to crack, but Shaun found some unused clay mix and skilfully patched it, and it now looks as good as new.  We knew this would happen -it’s happened on every layer so far, and we were satisfied that the cracks can only be about 3 inches deep -through one layer.

In total, the walls of this oven are in excess of 9 inches thick.

Yes, that’s quite a lot of clay -but sooooo worthwhile!Ian and I, happy after our puddling efforts today.

Tomorrow, after a hopefully brief visit into town to ‘see a man about a cat’ (…bit like ‘a man about a dog’, but this is a feline household…), I’ll be straight back here to carry on with the electronics and hopefully the programming for the electric bikes.

Of course, this will be after I’ve changed the screen that arrived today in that camera so I can present it to Matt on Saturday, fully fixed and working.  I may even charge the battery for him.

He will be pleased!

So, this last photo here to the right of myself and Ian kind of sums up the feelings of all today’s volunteers after a hard day’s work.

Tired, but happy.

More on Saturday, but this time with added pizza.

Yum to that!



Okay, okay. I give in! 16/05/12

You found me out.

Don’t tell me that when you were a kid you never snuck downstairs in the wee small hours of Christmas day to see if Santa had been, and if he had, then what he’d left you!

I went over to my allotment at lunchtime today to find Ian happily planting the cabbages and peas that I’d promised myself I’d do, but no worries.

After a brief chat, we headed up to LEAF to see what was happening.

At first, Not A Big Lot, but pretty soon people started to arrive, Ian left for the day (…He was knackered -he’d been up since the crack of dawn…), and I went about setting up the gear required to puddle yet more clay.

In the end, what with volunteers, visitors and the ‘Call Of The Kettle’ (…i.e. Tea!..), I only managed one mix of puddling, but I reckon another one tomorrow morning should see the whole thing done and finished.  Well, by that I mean all the clay done; what Matt does with it afterwards we’ll have to see, but he should have enough to work with.  If he wants any more for some outlandish sculpture, then he knows where the clay, sand and straw are…

(Only half joking!)

So, back to Wardian Towers, a quick shower and I’m just working on the sensor system to detect wheel movement.

I did have it as a single magnet mounted on the wheel with a little reed switch mounted on the rear of the frame, but as this is officially pratty, and any bike used on the machine will need this modification, I decided to mount an opto sensor on the shaft of the generator to give individual counts of the generator shaft revolving.

This involves a fair amount of, er, ‘ingenuity’ (…This is where ‘ingenuity’ = ‘bodgery’…), and believe it or not, the lid of a tin of salmon I ate last night.

Don’t worry if you’re confused.  I’ll get some photos when I’m done and it works later on this evening.

Anyway, I’d better get off.  Lots to do.

Better than Christmas. 16/05/12

I can still vividly remember Christmas as a child.  In many ways, the actual anticipation of the Great Day was as good, if not better, than the day itself.

And so it was this morning.

I was up well before the alarm went off (…one of the many advantages of having a cat who’s ruled by his stomach…), then just a few minutes ago, the doorbell rang with it’s usual ‘Ding - Dooooong’, and I wondered who it could be.  …Surely not?

“Farnell Delivery!”  Said the guy at the door.

“Oooohh!  Goody!” I exclaimed.The parts have arrived!

And so I took the large box from the chap, went inside and unwrapped it like a nine year old on Christmas morning.

Wrapping paper everywhere (…Laddo just loves this…), I found the delivery note and started to check stuff off.

Squeals of delight as all the new components were laid out.  A PIC processor, chip sockets, transistors, resistors, 7-segment displays, it was all there.

BUT, like the Victorian children of old, this will all have to wait ’til ‘Boxing Day’ this Friday because until then, I’ll have no time -there’s way too much to do down at LEAF this week!

Yes, I’ll still be working on the oven, but I can feel the end is definitely in sight with this.  One more mix, maybe two, then it’ll be done, and we’ll be able to enjoy pizza, bread and whatever else our Plotting Chefs can think of.

So, the washing machine has very nearly finished, the weather is looking good, so its on with the shorts (…Eeek!..), lace up my boots and off to work I go…


Yet more clay puddling. 14/05/12

I must confess, I’m starting to get more than a little bored by all this clay work now.

Its starting to lose it’s shine as I trudge to The Plots, secure in the knowledge that bar a lightning strike, a freak whirlwind or it suddenly raining washing machines, there’s going to be Wardo with his shoes and socks off, trudging round the polythene tarpaulin, suffering the stares and jeers from folk and kids on the road above in just a few minutes.

This morning, Wardian Towers was a hive of misplaced activity as I put off the moment of finally going out of the door.

All the dishes were washed, dried and put away; I’d cleaned the bathroom, hells, I’d even thought about washing my bedding.Happy Mitzi!

Luckily, that activity was put off in favour of opening up my old camera to discover that, as I’d suspected, the display had got broken in my fall a couple of months ago on the ice.  So, I’ve ordered a new one from eBay, and Matt has his name on it when its fixed, fettled and fully functional.

So, back to the early afternoon, and I met Matt on his plot, busy in his greenhouse.  A quick ‘Hello!’, then a short walk up the lane.

Back at The Plots, and I quickly got out the stuff I needed.  Once I got started it wouldn’t seem so bad, I was sure of it.

And I was right!  Within just a few minutes, I was bouncing away on the clay which started off very tough, but soon worked into a smooth paste, happy as a happy thing.

Yes.  You’re right.  It doesn’t take much.

Today, I was back to traditional ‘puddling’, so there was no straw involved, just sand, clay and lots of toe-breaking effort.

Once again, no cameras allowed -certainly not mine- so that’s why there’s a shot of Mitzi-Moos looking very happy today after I’d fed her.

I’ve yet to see a bad shot of Mitzi.  Maybe in a previous life she was a model?

Aaaah, you beat me to it!  Yes, a Cat Walk model!

Anyway, today I managed three ‘little mixes’ which probably equals about one and a half of the larger ones we were doing last Saturday, and I figure that we’ll need another two, possibly three before we can let Matt have his way and decorate the oven wildly.

Matt came up as I’d just finished my second mix, and very thoughtfully lit the oven again.The oven, lit again.  He very quickly had it going nicely, and if you click to enlarge the photo on the left, you should hopefully just be able to make out the waft of steam coming off the oven, drifting to the left.

Maybe I’m imagining it, but it seemed to me that not only did Matt get it hotter, quicker today, but that it held it’s heat much better.  Even as we were leaving a couple of hours later it was still very hot, and it didn’t seem to need feeding every couple of minutes like it used to.

Maybe it’s all in my imagination, but you can be sure that when we get the final coat of clay on it, I’ll be checking it very thoroughly to see just what it can do.

I’ll leave you, Dear Reader with a shot I took just before we left for the evening.Close up of the straw layer.

If you click on the photo to enlarge it, then use your imagination a little, you will possibly smirk as you try to imagine the elephant that must have been flying high overhead at just the right time, and suddenly got very, very scared.

Or is that just me having been out in the sun too long?

Back in your cage, Wardo.

Tomorrow, it looks set for rain, and anyway, I have a load of seeds to plant and young plants that need to go outside, so no LEAF fun for me.

Still, there’s always Wednesday!

As we’d arranged yesterday, I went down to The Plots for a little before 10.00 this morning.

I was first to arrive, so busied myself opening up the top metal shed and getting stuff ready for today’s action.

Obviously, little Mitzi-Moos sauntered over to see what all the fuss was about, and obviously, I made feeding her my top priority.

They say that: ‘Hell hath no fury like a scorned woman’.

This may be true, but you can take it from my own personal experience that: ‘Hell hath no fury like a hungry cat’.

For today’s fun, I needed the clay we’d puddled yesterday plus a load of straw that Diane had got some months ago.  I also needed the ground sheet down, a humper partially full of cold water and a couple of clean towels from my gaff to dry my feet on later.  Today, I was going ‘bareback’ right from the start -no pratting about with wellies for me!

Just as I started to think about taking my shoes off and getting stuck in, Jordan arrived on his bike, so when we’d safely stowed that, I explained the mission in hand.  Well, he was into it straight away -shoes and socks off before I’d even unlaced my boots!

Like yesterday I didn’t take any pictures of our dancing on the clay and straw because I feared for my camera, but take it from me, we had a Big Lot of fun!

The trick we found was to take the clay then really stamp it all out as big and flat as possible to get the greatest possible surface area.

Then, I liberally sprinkled handfuls of dry straw all over the top.  We then ‘folded’ the clay over by lifting up the edges of the polythene ‘tarpaulin’ we’d used yesterday until it fell in on itself.  We then continued to trample the clay, getting as much of the straw well mixed into it as possible.

When this was as large and flat as it was the first time, we’d sprinkle some more straw over it and repeat the folding process all over again.  All great fun, and much easier than yesterday and we found that our feet didn’t get half as messy either.The start of the seond, straw layer.

After about half an hour of this, we thought we’d got the straw mixed in well enough to start the really fun part of putting the clay onto the oven itself.

At this point, Matt arrived, so that made it much easier.  I could be ‘strawing-up’ the clay while he ‘domed it’ in place.

To the right here is the only bit of actual ‘plastering’ I did today -Matt and Jordan did all the rest, but they were quite happy doing this and they made such a marvellous job, who was I to argue?

They layered up the clay in the same way as we’d put the first layer on the sand dome last year -starting around the bottom and laying ‘sausages’ of the clay-straw mix all around, then moving up a layer and carrying on.Matt and Jordan having fun!

To the left here, you can see them both hard at work, and you can clearly see how this layer was building up.

The rate they were using this clay, I soon realised that I’d have to get a move on to keep up with them -I didn’t want them waiting around for me to finish!

The next load I did was one of the ‘load-and-a-halves’ from yesterday.  These were two loads that Shaun and I had done, but the one that Diane was working on was a little too ‘runny’, so we split it across our two loads and mixed it in well to get it to a better consistency.

In went a Big Lot of straw, and away I went, happily bouncing around as if I was at step classes.  All I needed was a bright leotard and some mindless pumping disco music at full volume.

Luckily, even though I had my radio with new batteries in it around, I forgot my leotard, so the Good People of Southey were spared.

With hindsight, this was probably for the best.A monk's 'tonsure'?

After I’d done this ‘load-and-a-half’ I was sure this would be enough to finish the whole dome, so I washed my feet, dried them and put my shoes and socks back on.

But as this photo to the right shows, I was wrong!

Anyway, it was gone 1.00pm, and time for lunch.

While Jordan and I went up for a sandwich from up the road, Matt put the kettle on for a well-deserved cup of tea.

After lunch, Jordan had to go, but I took my shoes and socks off again, and did a little dancing over a smaller amount of clay for this area and for around the hatch.

I did this in no time, and Matt skillfully finished it off so we could light it.

Now, I said yesterday that we’d cook some lunch on it, but what with one thing and another, we decided not to.  We’ll save the cooking for another day!Finished!

To the left here, you can see it after we’d lit it, and please don’t be put off by its ‘scabby’ appearance!

As I’ve previously said, this layer is mainly for insulation, and will be totally covered up.

Tomorrow afternoon, Matt and I plan to resume with the final layer which will be smooth and perfect.

We have about a mix of puddled clay left, so my job will be to puddle some more while Matt carries on with this final, beautiful layer.

Matt is already thinking of the kinds of artwork it will have, and I for one can’t wait to see what he comes up with!

Watch this space for more details!

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