Browsing Posts tagged clay

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!



Mining for gold 05/05/12

Well, not exactly gold per se, but to us and our clay oven, it certainly is.

This morning, Ian (no relation) and I ‘mined’ in the far right compost bin at the top of our Plots.  This bin had been full of last year’s leaf mold, but with the help of many volunteers, it had been emptied, ready for Ian and I to dig.

As I arrived this morning, Ian was already hard at work, but when he paused for a break, I thought I’d get ‘stuck in’ with a sharp spade.

Absolutely no chance!  I managed to stamp the spade no more than an inch into the surface when it stuck.  Even pulling it out was difficult!  We both agree that this is much higher quality than the stuff we used on the first coat on the oven, and maybe this stuff won’t crack as much.  We’ll have to see!

Of course, I have no photos of this.  I had the camera with me, but in all the excitement, totally forgot about it.  I’ll get some tomorrow to pop on here hopefully tomorrow evening.

So, you’re no doubt thinking, “Hang on!  Your pizza oven is done!  We’ve seen the photos!”  And you’d be half right.

Yes, the oven works, but to finish it ‘properly’, it needs two more layers of clay on the dome.  The first layer with be heavily mixed with straw, the second just a ‘finishing coat’, adding whatever patterns we want in the clay before it goes off.

Why do we need these extra coats on it?  Well, aside from the look of it -it doesn’t really look finished, its more to do with the amount of heat it will retain while you’re cooking with it.

I’ve noticed that I can get it stinking hot (…a scientific pizza-cooking term…), but by the time I’ve done a couple of pizzas on it, it’s cooling down.  Previously, I’ve had to rake the coals back over the central cooking area, but we figure that by insulating the dome with these two extra layers, it will hold more heat in for longer, meaning that once it’s up to temperature, it’ll tend to stay longer that way, but it will also mean we hopefully use less fuel.

This is the ‘Grand Theory’, anyway.

This morning, Ian and I hacked out about a bath’s worth of clay -we’re storing it in an old bath down near the oven itself, ready for puddling with sand.

If this isn’t enough for the two extra coats, we’ve left the compost bin empty so we can get some more clay if needs be.

A quick lunch of fishcake butties from up the road (…I know.  Baaaad, but we figured we’d already worked the calories off by getting the clay!..), it was over to Area 34 for the afternoon.

Yesterday, on a visit to town, I’d been down to the 99p store by Argos and on Matt’s advice, had bought a couple of boxes of netting.  6m x 4m for 99p.  Bargain!Pigeon-proof netting.

Ian had thought the construction of this all through before we started, so all credit goes to him for its design!

Using some of the hoops that had been the ‘folly’ (…Where ‘folly’ = ‘monstrosity’…), we built it as you can see here to the right.

Yes, totally Heath-Robinson, but that’s what allotments are all about!  If it does the job, then great.  If it costs you next to nothing in the process, well, even better!

In this picture to the right here, you can see the runner beans we planted a few days ago, about to leap up those privet branches we’ve saved from the hedge I cut the other week.

In front of the blue running boards, you can just make out the line of broad beans planted at the same time.

“So what’s inside the netting?” Someone shouts.

Well, the red cabbages we directly planted a couple of weeks ago were either not coming up, or had been taken by the pigeons, so young Jordan and I planted out a line of white cabbages Ian had sown in a tray in the greenhouse a few weeks ago.A line of white cabbages.

If you click on this photo to the left, you’ll just be able to make them out on the right hand side.

Now the netting’s in place, and the days are warmer (…hopefully!..), these will soon start to grow, but hopefully they won’t ‘bolt’ before they can heart up.  We figure we’ve got them in early enough this year, so they’ll have all the late spring and summer to grow and mature.

But they won’t be eaten by slugs or pigeons!

With this netting in place, they’ll be safe from aerial attack, and with the organic slug pellets that Ian bought a few days ago liberally sprinkled around, they should be fine.

Here’s hoping, eh?

No pizzas today… 19/11/11

…But we did cook in the new oven.

This last week, Diane has puddled a load more clay and sand, so today I really had to show willing and carry on with the oven.

Matt, Jon, Gary, David and Derek were off on another plot -clearing it for the council ready for a new tenant, so I was left up by the clay oven with Diane who was valiantly cleaning in the metal shed.  At this time of year, it tends to ‘perspire’ so everything needed a good scrub.

Today, I would make the clay ‘tunnel’ to connect the main oven to Matt’s stone archway.Before work begins.

Here you can see it after I’d cleared out the remains of the last firing before I started work, and though you can’t see from this photo, the archway at the front is free-standing.

Not for long!

Now, it had been suggested that I could just mold the clay between the dome and the arch, but being chicken, I decided to fill the entryway with sand -in a similar way to the how the dome itself was constructed.Filled with sand.

A side shot shows the kind of gap I had to bridge with the sand already packed in place.  I also put the door on the from (…you can just see it to the left of this shot…) to prevent sand spilling out of the front.

When the sand was in place and well packed down, I covered it with a layer of wet newspaper to stop the sand sticking to the clay.

Papered up.This shot here to the right shows what I mean.

You’ll also notice that I made sure there was no paper over the original dome -I needed the new clay to stick to that as best possible!

An hour or so later, nursing very cold fingers, the hatchway looked like this:-

Clay on.The eagle-eyed will notice that there’s a piece of green plastic pipe sticking out of the top of the new clay.

This didn’t stay in long!

It was simply a ‘former’ for the chimney.  I’ll confess I forgot it at first, but on remembering (…after giving myself a slap on the back of the head…), I very easily ‘screwed’ it into the wet clay and sand beneath, then left it there as I applied more clay.

When Matt and myself were putting the clay on for the dome, we used a technique of grabbing a handful of clay, then squashing it into a ‘sausage’, then laying it on top on the one beneath.

For making this archway, I simply started from the base upwards (…obviously!..), molding ‘blobs’ onto the wet newspaper, and it seemed to work pretty well.

Now, unlike a few weeks ago when we made the dome, the clay wasn’t going to set on its own -its too cold and damp.  I needed to get the sand out -very carefully- then light a fire in there as soon as possible -to prevent it collapsing.

Getting the sand out.Here on the right, you can see as I very gingerly pulled the sand out.

It all came out pretty easily, and with no major collapses, I then prepared and lit a gentle (…at first!..) fire to start to dry the clay.Fire in the hole!

Here you can see it just after it was lit, and the ‘smoke’ you can see coming off it is actually mainly steam!

Over recent weeks, we’ve had a little rain, so not only did I have to start to dry the new clay, but the old dome needed warming up as well.

Now, I wasn’t actually intending to cook anything today, but Kyle suggested that I do some potatoes because he wasn’t having any of Sara’s delicious soup.

No problem, but I warned him that I’d never done potatoes in a clay oven, so I didn’t know how they’d turn out.Spuds in tins.

In the end, I needn’t have worried.

We all agree that these potatoes, if anything, tasted better than the ones I normally do on the fire on the children’s plot.  Quite how this should be, I really don’t know, but I suspect it may be something to do with the heat being evenly applied to the tins rather than the majority being through the bottom as it is on our usual fire.  Further experimentation is definitely needed!

Also to note is that as I has the fire in there, I could only fit in one tin of potatoes at a time.  Maybe we need bigger tins to fit more potatoes?

Thats not smoke.  Its steam!

The baked potatoes were washed down with some superb parsnip soup made by Sara, and she’d brought a freshly-baked cake!  A marvellous end to a hard day’s work by all of us, I think.  I certainly won’t need any supper tonight!

Anyway, here a final ‘panoramic’ shot looking up to the oven after I’d lit it, and you can see all the steam rising from the dome.

Before I left tonight, it was agreed that Sara would make a load of pizza dough for next Saturday, then I’m going to show here how to fire this up and keep it going, and she’s going to be ‘FireStarter’ for the day.

So, make a date in your diaries.  26th November, early afternoon.

SEO Powered By SEOPressor