Browsing Posts published in April, 2013

Early this morning, there was some consternation down by the Plots as one of the beech trees across the road blew over, completely blocking the road to everything but foot traffic.  I’ll bet the bus drivers loved the little diversion through the housing estates.  Or maybe they didn’t.

Still, it meant that for once, it was quiet down the Plots without the constant roar of traffic, and Carol managed to persuade the tree surgeons to drop us off all the wood chippings they’d made in clearing up the mess.  A bit of a shame we couldn’t have some of the wood, but it did look rather big, exceedingly heavy, and apparently, all the wood went to another contractor.

Still, no worries.  We’ll now have plenty of wood chip for the area by the top wooden shed when we put the gazebos up when (if!), it gets warm in a few weeks time.

So for me today, it was all about our bees.

Our head beekeeper, Charles, arrived pretty early and we got suited up ready for action.

Today, we moved one colony from its ‘nuc’ into a full hive.

This was the swarm that Diane so skillfully caught last summer in the cardboard box, and though the colony was not as large as Charles would have liked, it was still large enough to spare two frames for the new arrivals as we moved it into its own brood box.

The centre hive, however, had fared much better over the long winter, so we ‘borrowed’ two frames of larvae and capped brood from this.

This left us with four frames of good, strong bees.

Charles had brought two new nuc boxes with him, and two new queens he’s received in the post the other day.  Surprisingly (…well, to me anyway…), yes, you are allowed to post queens with a few attendant workers, as long as they obviously can’t get out!

These two queens were housed in clear, smallish containers with vents on their sides, and the idea is that you should introduce them gradually to their new workers.

To do this, Charles put two of the full frames plus two ‘blank’ frames into each nuc, then sealed them up so the bees can get a chance to learn their way around their new home.

Oh, and when I say ‘sealed’, I mean he only sealed up the front entry holes. There is plenty of breathing space up through the bottom, so they won’t suffocate!

Then, Jon very carefully placed a queen in each of the new nucs, still her ‘royal box’, suspended right above where the capped brood was, hanging by a matchstick through the top of her box.

By doing this, her pheromones will hopefully mingle with those of the rest of the hive, so when Jon and I come to release the pair of them, probably Monday, there’ll be much less of a chance of the workers rejecting their new queens.

We’ll probably open the front doors at the same time to allow the foragers out to collect pollen and nectar.

So, hopefully by this time in a couple of weeks, we’ll be able to go in the new nucs again, and check that everything is well and that both queens are laying as they should.

We finally finished, and when I checked the time, I was astonished that over an hour had completely flown by.

Anyway, I’m going to have to leave it here for now.  It’s well past my bedtime, and I promise I’ll process the photos in time for Saturday’s entry.

Then again, if I finish off what I have to do early tomorrow, I may well spend an hour going through all the shots that PXI Nick took with my camera today.

So, Dear Reader, I’ll leave it there, if I may.

Pillow & Duvet calling a very tired Nick!

Thankfully quiet! 17/04/13

But the few of us who turned up certainly got stuck in, and we’ve got loads out of the way so that when the ‘part-timers’ come on Saturday afternoon, they can plant away to their hearts’ content.  Of course, what they never see is all the back-breaking work that goes in beforehand, but who am I to complain?  I can still remember when I first came down to LEAF, and for months, I did none of this hard work.  Payback time, methinks.Nearly done!

Today, Gary and Shaun carried on filling our two new raised beds with soil.  The bottom of these beds has got a load of pretty awful stuff in that certainly isn’t good enough to grow vegetables in, and as you get higher, the soil gets progressively better.

We think that you should feed the soil, rather than just feed the plants.  Okay, if you’re only using, say, a grow bag for a summer to grow tomatoes in, then yes, you should feed the tomatoes as much as you can, but when you’re consciously trying to improve the soil year-on-year, then you feed the soil, and that in turn takes care of the plants in it.

I made a brief survey of the plots after Matt noticed that some git has stolen a load of polycarbonate sheeting we had propped up quite close by the beehives.  Further inspection revealed that we’d also lost a couple of rhubarb crowns too from the entrance.

Well, all we can say is that we hope you treat them well, and that you remember that you stole them from LEAF.  The silly thing is that if someone had actually asked us, we probably would have said ‘Yes!’, anyway.

On my travels, I couldn’t help but notice that all the daffodils on the banking have suddenly decided to come into bloom.Daffodils!  This is pretty amazing, because last Saturday, these were all only budding.  I’d thought they were at least a week away from flowering.

Elsewhere on our Plots, there were signs of Pam and Jon’s handiwork of a few weeks ago when they went mad planting bulbs.

To the right here are some of the crocii that Pam planted after Jon had gone.

These little beauties are at the ends of the beds running down the left of that last photo -near the bushy chives.

A quick close up reveals just how tender and fragile these things really are, and on a less windy day, our bees will love them.Newly-planted crocii

Our friend from further down the site, Gerry, called by today, and on hearing of our losses to thieves, he said he’d keep a watchful eye out for ‘unknowns’ on the site.

Matt also came down briefly before a trip to the doctor’s, but before he left, he was advising Gary and Shaun on all manner of things we should do with the end of the bed that Gary and others ‘unearthed’ a couple of weeks ago.  It all sounds exciting stuff, and I’m sure Gary will surpass himself!

Meanwhile, I was busy finishing off the bed I’d been working at on Saturday.  Yes, I’d ‘roughly’ dug it all over, but it needed neatening up.

And even more dock plants taking out.  I swear they weren’t in the bed when I’d left it on Saturday, but today, here they were.

It’s funny, but I always imagine dock plants to have an Austrian accent, if they could speak.

“There you go, you little swine!” you exclaim as you pull it out, triumphantly.

“I’ll be back!” comes the reply.Cleared bed

And so, here is that bed to the left here.  Almost good enough to sleep on.  Okay, not as finely raked as Diane would have done it, but when you consider it was me that did this, I’m pretty pleased with the result.

Lets hope Carol is when she comes on Saturday to plant in it!

Matt and Sara made afternoon tea, so we all briefly adjourned to the shed to discuss the day, but on my way back, I couldn’t help but notice a bed very close to the one I’d just finished.  This had been half-completed by someone a couple of weeks ago, and as I had all the tools down there, I thought I’d give it a quick going over on my return.Lamb's Lettuce.

As you can probably see, it was covered in low-lying weed -this time ‘lamb’s lettuce’.  Apparently, you can eat this stuff, but like the chard (shudder), I really don’t fancy trying it.

So, fortified with the tea, I went back with a kneeler and hand-fork, and went over it to get every last trace of this stuff out.

Yes, it might be edible, and yes, the little blue flowers it grows are quite beautiful, but unless you get it before the flowers start to wilt and the tiny seeds start to blow around, you can guarantee that the following year, you’re going to have lamb’s lettuce everywhere!

A bed of onions up towards the path up to the gate has got this stuff in, and because the onions were planted while this stuff was dormant, no-one knew it was there.  Guess who’ll be on his hands and knees again, ‘micro-weeding’ this stuff out from between young onions?Lamb's lettuce OUT!

Here you can see the bed as I left it tonight.  No lamb’s lettuce, and certainly no dock plants!

This bed, like the others already done, can be planted up very soon.

All too soon it was gone five o’clock, and time for us to pack up and go, but not before we’d had a last look round for left-out tools and other detritus.

On Saturday, I’ll remember to charge the camera and get some shots of Gary and Shaun’s superb work up on the top Plot in the long bed that used to be full of strawberries.  In a few weeks, this will be full to bursting with Gary’s beans, and we really can’t wait for that!

Hopefully more tales from The Plots tomorrow evening!

Adding memory? I forgot. 16/04/13

You’d have thought that with all this learning and fun stuff happening here at Wardian Towers, that as I get further and further into this electronic ‘lark’, first with PIC’s, then I2C, then real time clock counters, then I2C input/output devices, then into iButtons and all the wonders they produce; you’d have thought that it would get easier as time went on.

Scientists do say that the brain is in fact like a giant muscle, and that the more you use it, the easier it gets as it becomes more familiar with cramming it with yet more and more knowledge.

Well, I can report that from this end, it most certainly doesn’t seem to.Before...

But then again, I guess I’m not as young as I used to be, and maybe doing this kind of stuff is really for the twenty-somethings.

But then again, if I was twenty-something again, I’d be either playing on my X-Box, or drooling over a new Porsche, or Armani suit.  BUT, I’ve been there.  Got the T-shirt; read the book.  Boring.  Shallow.

Whatever.

To the right here is the board before I fitted the new memory chip.  The chip itself is a Microchip device called a ’24FC512′.  This denotes it’s from the ’24’ series of serial EEPROM (Electrically Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory) chips, and it will store up to 512 K bits of information.  Note the ‘bits’ bit.  In more user-friendly language, it will store up to 64 K Bytes of 8-bit words. (As we all know, there are 8 bits to a byte.)

The datasheet tells me that I can have up to four of these little guys sat on the same I2C lines, each individually addressable, so I could have up to 256K bytes of information storage on just four chips.

Frightening.

Hooking the thing up was ridiculously easy, and took a matter of minutes -I just had to remember to wire the SDA (data) and SCL (clock) lines properly.  Mix them up and all kinds of exciting and unexpected stuff would happen....After

There’s also a pin which you can either wire up, or even have sat on another output pin from the PIC.  This pin is the ‘Write Protect’ pin.  With it sat at 5-volts, you can read the contents of the chip, but it won’t let you write, while tying the pin to ground gives you unfettered access to everything.  This is a pretty useful feature, and I may well use it if I get the opportunity.

And here is the chip in circuit.  As I said, ridiculously easy to wire up, and you can barely notice any other new components.  They’re there, though.

And so to programming it.

And this is where all the ‘fun‘ started.

I set up an entirely new project in the X-IDE program I use from Microchip so as not to contaminate the other stuff I’ve written.  Okay, doing it this way may take longer, but it gives you a ‘fresh canvas’ to work on, and it prevents great lumps of code being sat in the program for other functions that you will never use in this.  It also focuses the mind on just what you really need in there to get the program running.

For this program, I needed the new RS232 program I’d written the other day so I could actually see in a box on the screen what the processor was putting into the RAM and also what was coming off the RAM.  Yes, I could have done it with simple LED’s already sat on the board, but that would have been pratty.

After several hours, many cups of tea, and of course, ‘consultation chats’ with young Alfie (…He’s a bit ropy on I2C, but learning fast…), I finally nailed it when I realised that you never use the ‘Acknowledge’ pulse when you’re writing to the device, but when you read from it, you must acknowledge every byte apart from the last one where you send a ‘NotAcknowledge’ pulse.

Oh, and to be on the safe side, you need plenty of ‘IdleI2C()’s thrown around, just for good measure.

Again, last night was another late one, but I can report total success.

I can now write data to this chip, switch the whole thing off, have a cup of tea, switch it all back on, and the data is still exactly as I wrote it.

Today, I have other, much less fun stuff to do, and of course Wednesday and Thursday are ‘Plotting’ days.

But I shall return soon to this project -hopefully before I forget everything I’ve done.

Unlike the RAM I’ve just fitted and programmed, unfortunately, I do forget stuff when switched ‘off’.

 

The lightest of touches 15/04/13

When I wrote that last piece about the iButtons, yes, I’d got the iButton to display its unique serial number on the PC screen. I did this using an RS232 link to my PC using a free program called PuTTY which emulates the old ‘Hyperterminal’, not found on Windows 7.  This was no mean feat -I’d never programmed a PIC for RS232, so it was new territory all round.

Yes, the PC would display the list of numbers, but the problem was, it would only do it occasionally!Before...

By its very nature, 1-wire communications with the iButton is shaky, even at the best of times, so getting the thing to display the proper numbers consistently was something of a challenge.

In the end, I had to read seemingly thousands of pages of dry-as-a-bone documentation, both from Microchip (the makers of the PIC processor) and from Dallas Semiconductors (the makers of the iButton).

A very long and very boring story later, and very late last night, I finally cracked it.

Initially, the PC would read the correct number maybe only once in thirty button touches.  Now, it’ll do it between eight and nine times out of ten.  Okay, still not ‘production’ quality, and I’m sure I can improve it further, but you’ll agree, it’s a Big Lot better.

Up to the right here is my board.  You’ll remember the ‘flying board’ of the I2C real time clock sat there on its piece of card, attached with gaffer tape. The iButton is the red thing at the side, while the iButton reader is to the left of that, joined by its two wires....and after.

To the left here is the same board, but this is after I’d gently touched the iButton to the reader, and you can see the white LED towards the back of the board, lit to show that the button has been recognised.

I’ve also programmed it such that different iButtons will light different LED’s, while tapping an ‘unknown’ iButton illicts no response whatsoever.

So, we can safely say that this is now a ‘Job Done’.  iButtons are now recognised, and more importantly, different iButtons produce different responses, while ‘new’ iButtons, until programmed in, aren’t recognised at all.The result!

To the right here is a pretty poor picture of what the screen says when a valid iButton is touched to the reader.  Pretty neat, eh?  And yes, the black ear behind the box on the screen is that of my cat, Alfie.

And the next job, Wardo?

Aaaaah…

That’ll be the I2C non-volatile RAM I mentioned seemingly weeks ago.

With this in circuit, I’ll be able to record, using the RTCC clock for reference, just when an iButton was touched to the system, and it won’t ‘forget’ once the power is turned off.

And after that?

Ah, Dear Reader, therein lies the ‘challenge’.  After that, I plan to design and build a monitoring circuit that will measure -and record- battery usage as the unit is working.  This board will be a ‘hybrid’ board, combining both digital circuits with an analogue ‘front-end’ that will monitor the currents going both into and out of the battery, but it will also ‘time-slice’ this data into usable ‘chunks’ with an integrator.  It is this integrator that has proved most troublesome, but thanks to the excellent ‘Khan Academy‘, a free Internet maths revision site, I think I’ve got it cracked.

Tie this to iButton usage, and I’ll have a permanent record of just who was using the bike, when they were on it, and most importantly, how much juice they put into the battery.

This data could then be used as the basis for the strict rationing of the ever-popular LEAF chocolate biscuits!

No, seriously, this could have a profound effect on how we might approach possible funders, and on what basis we apply for the ever-shrinking pot of public monies.

But to be honest, I’m not thinking quite that far ahead just yet.

One problem at a time, and the current problem is the non-volatile (NV) RAM.

Then I’ll look at the challenge of power monitoring.

All clean, healthy fun.

Phew! 13/04/13

That’s about the only thing I can say about today.

Loads of volunteers -even given the lousy weather, loads of visitors, and surprisingly, given all the visitors, loads was achieved!

I arrived well before ten to get stuff ready, but mainly to get the first pot of tea on.  I’d run out of tea bags at home, so unsurprisingly, I was pretty desperate!

I’d just got our friend Kelly the Kettle merrily brewing, when we had our first couple of visitors -Julie and her brother, Mick.  We stood chatting up by the top gate until Jon arrived and could let them in -my gate key doesn’t work!

Of course, our Honorary Vice ChairCat, Mitzi was soon on hand to welcome the pair of them, and luckily, they both love cats, so little Mitzi was in her element, bless.

New volunteer, Shaun, arrived pretty soon afterwards, and he quickly changed into his boots and sawed up the masses of holly Ian (no relation) and I had feverishly cut down last Sunday.  The larger branches are now just the right size to feed into the pizza oven, while all the smaller stuff has been safely carted down the the fire pit on the Children’s Plot.  We’ll burn this as soon as we can.  Yes, holly looks great, but that’s at Christmas, and those sharp prickles play havoc with wheelbarrow tires!

Julie and Mick stayed for nearly an hour, as more and more volunteers arrived and got on with their tasks for the day, and were pretty impressed as I showed them around.  They’d been past many times in cars or on buses, but never actually seen The Plots ‘up close’, and were particularly impressed with our bees.  This was just as well, because the weather this morning was pretty warm, so there were loads of them out, bringing in nectar and pollen.

As they were leaving, Jon said that he was leaving early this afternoon, and did we want to inspect the hives and possibly feed them?  Obviously, that was a ‘Yes!’

Our two remaining hives looked in pretty good shape.  The centre one had taken all its feed, and on inspecting the small ‘nuc’, we decided to feed that some syrup as well, as per Charles’ instructions.  Charles will be making a couple of visits this week, hopefully with a couple of new queens, and I’ll remember to charge the camera so I can take plenty of shots.  (Like a chimp, I’d forgotten it today.  Sorry!)

Pretty soon, Sara arrived, then it was time for lunch.  I’d been up to the local supermarket on my way over, and had loads of bread and cheese for everyone to share, of course over a couple of cups of tea, and we were discussing what needed planting in the greenhouse. Sara very kindly volunteered for this job, and we now have an entire packet of broccoli, and entire packet of white cabbage, and four trays of Savoy cabbage, all happily planted and watered in.

In a few weeks, if the weather continues to improve, we should have literally hundreds of seedlings in there, so we’ll have to have the beds ready for them all to go in!

Meanwhile, Gary and new volunteer, Shaun, were busy with the long bed by the metal shed I mentioned a few posts ago.  This is very slow work due to all the bindweed and other perennial weed in there, but they made steady progress.

I tackled a bed on the Children’s Plot, as Carol is thinking we should get some of the many pot-bound herbs in there.  We’ll see, but either way, it certainly needed weeding, and I have the nettle stings to prove it.  I also had to fight a load of dock plants with their massive tap roots, but since working on Area 34 last year, this was familiar work to me.

I was only a few minutes into my weeding when our favourite welder, who lives nearby, came down.  He brought his sister and brother-in-law, so I had to show them round, and as his sister and her husband are keen bee-keepers, they were very interested in our bees and the trauma we had a few days ago losing that hive.  They themselves have thirteen hives, but have lost seven of them over winter, so as I previously said, we’ve been pretty lucky this year only losing the one!

Matt popped in today, but he had stuff to do on his own plot, so didn’t spend much time with us.  Gerry, likewise had stuff to do -he didn’t even stop for a cup of tea!

All too soon, it was gone five o’clock, but luckily I’d finished the bed on the Children’s Plot, so we wearily packed up and made for home.  Not before I’d finished the last of the washing up and tidied up the top shed, though.

Depending on the weather tomorrow, I may just pop over to see how things are, but officially, I’m now ‘off-duty’ while next Wednesday.

Well, I say ‘officially’, but in actual fact, I’ll hopefully be seeing Diane on Monday, and any spare time in between, I’ll be working on iButtons and electric bikes.

So, Dear Reader, I’ll leave you for now, tired, but happy!

(P.S.  The other day I was browsing eBay (as you do), and came across ‘Hive Tools’.  A hive tool is a strip of stainless steel you use to crack open a beehive when you need to inspect.  Hives tend to get clogged with propolis, which is tremendously sticky.  Of course, I ordered one -I still can’t find the ‘official’ LEAF hive tool, so I intend to get mine stamped with at least my initials in it -just so we know whose is whose.  Of course, after getting a hive tool, I’ll need a bee-keeper’s smock.  Then a smoker.  Then a ‘nuc’.  Then my own bees.  It’s only a matter of time…)

Bees and trees. 07/04/13

Again today, it dawned bright and comparatively warm.  Well, I say comparatively warm, it’s certainly at least a couple of degrees down on where we should be for this time of year, but given the recent lousy weather, we’re pretty happy with this.

And most of our bees were happy too, today. The centre hive was very busy, while the ‘nuc’ was pretty active, and watching for a while, I noticed quite a few of the foragers coming back with ‘trousers’ full of bright yellow pollen.  As I’ve previously said, this means that both the queens are in there, and they’re both doing their job -laying the next generation of workers.

As I mentioned earlier, the far hive nearest Gary was as dead as a dead thing.  Yes, there were a few bees about, hanging around the entrance, but they looked dazed and sluggish, and there was certainly no foraging happening.  This means we’ve almost certainly lost the queen in that hive, but by all reports, having two out of the three still alive is pretty good for this year, so we can’t complain.Pear tree with a haircut!

Ian (no relation) texted me this morning, suggesting that we come out to ‘play’ for just a couple of hours, and as I needed to check on the bees anyway, it gave me the perfect excuse to get my ‘fun’ clothes on and trot over there.

As I arrived, Ian had started to get the tea makings out of the top shed, so I quickly got the Kelly Kettle lit for the first cuppa.

Ian today decided that he would finish off his work in the orchard, pruning back all the detritus and bad wood from our fruit trees.  This shot to the right shows one of the two plum trees after its haircut, and we agreed that there is a much better chance of actually getting some plums from this tree this year.

Gary soon arrived to tend to his chickens, then Matt, who’d come down to plant mini-pop sweetcorn.

Ian had brought down some apple strudel that wasn’t eaten yesterday, so we ate that, of course, washed down with copious amounts of tea, then carried on with our jobs for the day.

As Ian was about finishing with the orchard, I had a sudden rush of blood to the head and decided that the overgrown, and overhanging, holly that scratched you every time you went from our main plot to the orchard just had to be cut back.

Well, Ian and I attacked this with some gusto!Holly cut back

We cut some pretty hefty branches from the main tree, and as you can see from the shot to the left, while we’ve cut it back considerably, there’s still plenty to grow, and in a few months, it’ll still provide food for the bees nearby.

All too soon it was time to go.  Gary had loads to do on his plot, Matt was busy planting the mini-pops, and Ian and I had other stuff to do back at our respective places.

Anyway, there’ll be more fun and frolics from our Plots on Wednesday, so I’ll chat with you then, Dear Reader!

Not so good.

Jon and I have been feeding our bees through all this awful weather with a mixture of heavy sugar syrup, and last time he visited, Charles put a block of nectar and pollen mix over the far one nearest Gary’s plot.

It was this hive that we’ve been most worried about, and yesterday things kind of came to a head when we saw that while the middle hive was very busy, with workers bringing in loads of nectar and pollen on their back legs -as sure sign the queen is healthy and laying, this far one was the complete opposite.

Absolutely nothing happening.Our youngest beekeeper at a safe distance!

We got suited up, and young Adam, who’d come down with his parents Barry and Sairah was keen to see too, so we got him suited up, and warned him that things could get a little hairy, and should they get out of control, then he should run!

In the end, there was no need to have worried, because in this hive, it was as quiet as a morgue.

Starting at the top, Jon and I lifted off the various boxes, seeing millions of dead bees, crammed into every corner of the hive.Sudden hive collapse?

When we got to the bottom plate, we could see why.

What you can see in this sad photo to the left is the bottom cover of the hive, absolutely rammed with dead bees, four, or even five-deep, completely blocking the bottom of the hive, the air vents, and more importantly, the hive entrance.

Now, we saw a very small cluster of live bees in the middle of the main brood box, so we’re hoping that in amongst them was the queen, and that by today, they’ll have realised that everything has been cleared out, and that she’ll be laying again.

We appreciate, this is a big ask, and I’ll be sure to let you know on my return this afternoon.

Funnily enough, many beekeepers in Sheffield and the surrounding areas have been seeing the same thing -an apparently busy, healthy hive, suddenly ‘shutting down’.

Currently speculation is that it is a combination of the exceptional weather we’ve been experiencing, and also there has been some suggestion that pesticides could have something to do with this.

The BBC News website the other day reported in its ‘Science & Environment‘ section that researchers have proved that bees exposed to neonicotinoid pesticides seem to lose their sense of direction and their ability to remember just where the best foraging is.  As these bees are meant to do the famous ‘waggle dance’ to tell their compatriots this information, it means the hive is essentially blind.  They don’t know -they can’t remember! where the pollen and nectar are!

But hey, of course, the massive drug companies who make these awful chemicals aren’t to blame, are they?

Obviously not!

…And our alleged ‘MP’s’ seem powerless to stop these vast multinationals producing these toxins.

After all, they’ve got to make a profit, eh?

Of course, who do you think is sat on the boards of these vast multinationals, with non-executive positions, yet collecting huge salaries?

Ah.  Right.

That’ll be these same MP’s, will it?

I’m sorry for the late arrival of this little piece, but last night as I got in, I just had to work on the iButton -so I did that, and blogged about it accordingly.

The weathermen had been promising a fine and bright day for yesterday, and they weren’t wrong.

In truth, it was probably the warmest and brightest day of the year so far, and down at LEAF we were blessed by many volunteers who took the opportunity to get out and get some fresh air in their lungs.

Gary carried on digging over the beds that in a few weeks will have masses of different types of runner beans in, while I tended our ‘best friend’, Kelly the Kettle. Ian (no relation), meanwhile, had plans for the orchard.

Now Ian has been fully trained as a tree surgeon from being a very young lad.  His dad taught him, and in fact he regularly works on quite a few trees belonging to other plot holders down on our site.

Due to various factors though, he’s never worked on our orchard trees.

Until yesterday, that is!The orchard.

As you can see from this hasty photo before he began, it was a bit of a mess, to say the least.

When these trees were first planted, the volunteer who advised on them was into ‘permaculture’, that is growing stuff around the bottom of the trees.  Consequently, there were all manner of other ‘things’ growing all around them, and with them being in ‘dwarf’ stock, and therefore very low to the ground, it meant that any fruit was almost buried by the surrounding ‘mess’ of overgrown foliage.  You couldn’t even get to the trees because of all this other stuff around them.  If you did manage to see a nice piece of fruit, odds on it would be riddled with slug holes and have maggots.

Not good.

Soooo, Ian, who has been planning this assault for weeks now, very carefully cut back most of the overgrown and overhanging branches, and in doing so has not only opened the trees up, but has ensured that if not this year, then certainly next year, we’ll have proper fruit trees, bearing proper fruit.

Also, we’re having a policy over the picking of fruit.

In the autumn, after a hopefully long and glorious summer, we’ll be having fruit-picking sessions.  We’ll be asking volunteers to actively pick the fruit from the trees, rather than leaving it all to drop into the ever-open jaws of the slugs and other nasties on the ground below.

I’ll be doing a very short ‘Sunday Sesh’ today, so I’ll get some more photos of this work-in-progress, and you’ll certainly see the difference!

As I mentioned at the top of this piece, we had loads of volunteers yesterday, and they all seemed to bring food.  Gary was in heaven!

Barry and Sairah brought young Adam and even younger Thomas, so Barry wasted no time in lighting a fire and burning a load of rubbish that needed to go.  Meanwhile, Sara, who’d brought some rather yummy cheese and a chocolate cake was alternating between he plot and ours, while Matt, who’d brought some awesome hot cross bun treacle tart was doing the copious amounts of washing up.

I was working on clearing out more of the metal shed, and managed to get one set of shelving out and fully clean, ready to be transferred into our ‘new’ top shed.

Jon arrived, of course armed with his mug, and over a brief cup of tea, we both agreed that we’d get suited up and have a look in the far hive. We were both concerned that while the centre hive and right hand ‘nuc’ were buzzing, there was no activity from the left one.

But, Dear Reader, you’ll have to wait for my next installment, all about our bees, to read about this.

 

iButton madness

For those of you not in the know, an iButton, funnily enough, is not from those wonderful boys and girls who make the phones, computers, and seemingly everything else ‘i…’.

The iButton is actually made by Dallas Semiconductors.  If you’ve ever been in a bar, then odds-on, the barperson would have had one of these little things that they simply touch to the till to identify them as your server.  Yeah?

Right.

Well, Dear Reader, I’ve known about iButtons for years -we used them in the electronics department at Sheffield University for access control into areas that undergraduates are normally not allowed.

They’re dead cute, and can fit on any keyring.

But, the best thing about them is that each one is unique.  They have a laser-imprinted 64-bit serial number that is impossible to fake or hack (…they’ve tried, believe me…), so when you touch your iButton onto the piece of gear, it checks from a list of known users, and as nightclub bouncers are so fond of saying- ‘If your name’s not on the list, you’re not coming in!’

Same kind of thing, but without the badly-fitting suits or tattoos.

Well, to be honest, like the dreaded (no longer!) I2C that I mentioned previously, iButtons were things that I’d kind of been putting off for years.  In reality, they’re pretty difficult to program for, because everything is so dependent on timings and all other kinds of fun stuff.

The thing is, for the electric bikes to move forward, I needed a simple system -like an iButton- that regular riders could simply tap onto the top of the box, and it would instantly know who they were.  iButtons seemed ideal, but as I said, they’re a real drag to get right.

Well no longer!

Just a few minutes ago, with the help of my trusty feline (?!?), I finally cracked it.

As young Alfie so kindly reminded me from his position on my knee, the reason it wasn’t reading was that I hadn’t unset the bloody analogue inputs from PORTA, so it wasn’t reading it properly.

Well, now it is!

Now, the long-suffering Mr Ward Senior will not be around for our regular Sunday brunch tomorrow morning, so I’ve got all day to get the program working as I want.  Little things like the unit sensing when an iButton has been touched, interrupting what it’s doing, then reading the number from it.

Then I can program in the list of my six iButtons, so it will know exactly which one has been touched, and give an appropriate message.

All tremendously good fun, and it keeps me off the streets.

Oh, and there’ll be a ‘regular’ LEAF blog entry up first thing in the morning after I’ve processed all the photos and thought of just what to write.

Thankfully, it’s stopped snowing.  And raining.

But this morning, it was still cold enough to, well…  You get the idea.

But enough moaning about the weather.

Today I’m here to tell the world of our many volunteers and all the completely fabulous work they did!

Carol came down today with her two granddaughters, and between them they planted loads of broad beans and peas. So many peas in fact that Ian (no relation) had to start putting up more canes for the excess peas we’re going to have.  Of course, very few of these little gems will ever see the inside of a cooking pot.  Instead, they’ll be grazed by hungry volunteers, normally on a Saturday morning before work starts and they are looking round at what needs doing next.

But this is what it’s all about!  We don’t mind whoever munching on our peas, because a) they helped grow them and b) it’s certainly better than snacking on ‘shop-bought’ stuff from up the road.  And, it’s free, too.

Pam came down, and she skilfully cleared the carrot bags and planted two up with new ones, while a third bag will very soon have parsnips growing in it. Yes, we’re aware that Jon planted a bed of parsnips up a few weeks ago, but these are a different variety, and anyway, you can never have too many parsnips.

While Ricky went and fetched more water from the house next door, Graham and Matt whacked up two new shelves in the top shed.New shelving

And you can see the finished result to the right.

It was funny, but while they were measuring up, Matt called me over (…I was tending Kelly The Kettle…), and asked if we could get a new spirit level bubble, as this one was off.

I laughed, after all, it’s a common joke here, but when I went in to see, I could see exactly what he meant. Despite the shelves being all over the place, level-wise, the spirit level said they were dead flat!  I’ll see if our good friends at B&Q have any when I’m there this weekend!

In the end, they did it by eye, and everyone agreed that they were all dead level.New cooking area

To the left here is our ‘new’ cooking area in the same shed.  In fact, if you stood where the camera was for the last shot and swiveled to your left, this is exactly what you would see.

Obviously, it would be slightly tidier than this as Ian (no relation) and I had just polished off a pork steak buttie each before everyone arrived this morning.  As we left, I’d made sure that the cooker was spotless.  No grease stains, no horrible burned on marks.  Clean.

Another thing you’ll notice is that you can actually see while you’re cooking with the cooker here.  Back in the metal shed, it was like the Black Hole of Calcutta.  Here, you have light and ventilation, and we love it.

Gary and I worked on the new beds on the top plot today.  I took a load of woodchip out of one of them that had been put in by mistake (…Yes, that’ll be my mistake!..), then Gary worked his magic around the new beds with that woodchip to make it suitable for walking on.Fresh woodchip around the beds  Up until today, this area has been just too wet to put any down, but with the rain set to hold off for a few days, we thought we’d risk it.

Here you can see him admiring his work, and pretty fine it looks, too.

Jon came up today, and we both went into our two remaining full beehives.  The third is a ‘nuc’, and that still appears to be fine, but the far hive, nearest Gary’s plot is giving us some cause for concern.

On looking in, there was still a very small cluster of bees, but there were loads and loads of dead ones, simply scattered about in the upper-most frame.  We’re hoping, praying, for a few days of sunshine when the bees can get out, bring some pollen and nectar in, and more importantly, take care of all their dead comrades.  Still, help is always at hand with Charles, our head beekeeper.  If we get really scared, he’s only a phone call away.

So, all in all, today we’ve been busier than my cat at both his food bowls.

And there’s still loads more to do!

More fun from Saturday.  The weather is set to be fine, and our good friend Kelly will be kept more than busy, making us all tea.  The lunch is already sorted, and there’s rumours that Matt will be bringing down one of his legendary pies for us to share.

So please don’t come down on Saturday.

No.  We mean it.

All the more pie for us…


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