Gourd-on Bennett!

October 26th, 2007

Excuse the terrible pun in the title there. I’ve found something that Lucy and I will definitely be trying in some form, at some point…It involves creating a flexible mould and then growing a gourd inside it so that it grows into the shape of whatever you’ve modelled.

Portrait Gourds Grown in Molds

I’ve been doing some work on the data-link front. This was my plan to transfer data from sensors on the allotment to our house using radio transmitters and receivers. First off I contacted a company called Radiometrix. They had a nice looking transceiver module with a 10km range (perfect as we’re only 1km from the allotment) which I emailed them about to ask the price. I got a reply saying that the module I’d enquired about wasn’t legal for use in the UK yet due to the frequency it operates on. They then said if I supplied my business’ contact details that they would send me a quote and tell me what other modules might suit my application. I replied with my contact details but saying that I wasn’t a business…I’ve still not heard back from them, oh well.

After being dismissed by Radiometrix because I’m a lowly member of the public and not a Limited Company, I managed to track down alternative radio gear on good old eBay. The seller has a large range of very cheap kit. The ones that really caught my eye were this transmitter and the matching receiver. The transmitter supposedly has a range of 4000m, more than enough to bridge the gap between the allotment and our house. With a bit of luck and a decent antenna setup the receiver should be able to pick up the signal.

To start off with I’ve ordered one transmitter and one receiver to test the modules out. The seller on eBay offers flat rate postage of $4 no matter how many items are ordered, making it pretty cheap to do multiple orders should I need to get more bits. The total for my order including postage and the Paypal currency converting fee came to £11.40, much cheaper than one of the Radiometrix transceivers I imagine.

The modules don’t feature any kind of encoder chips so I was planning to implement software based Manchester Encoding on a PIC 16F88 chip to make the data transfer reliable. When the modules arrive I’ll post the results of any testing.

Pest control

October 24th, 2007

Recovered from the undergrowth Clearing up nicely Spikey bramble, hidden cold-frame All the cleared weeds

Lucy and I went down to the allotment after I finished work today to survey our kingdom and because Luicy wanted to show me what she’d been up to during the week. Amazingly, she’d unearthed a huge glass cold frame in amongst the brambles at the back of the plot (see pic above). It’s in really good condition apart from a few cracked panes, which we should be able to replace using some of the many glass sheets that seem to be littered under every overgrown bush, like ice that’s formed during cold weather.

We’ll probably move the cold frame from its position at the back of the plot to a spot in front of the greenhouse where it should catch the sun for more of the day. The space created by moving it and by clearing the brambles will probably be used for some decorative planting, althouh we’ve still not got round to drawing up a planting plan yet so tht may change.

The next big jobs that need doing are the construction of raised beds, ready for spring, and the replacement of the current compost heap, which at the moment is a rusting pile of dangerously sharp corrugated iron. Even though it nees re-building the current heap is actually full of very nice compost, which will be perfect for filling the new beds with. Another job is a by-product of making the raised beds - making paths. I quite like the idea of using scented plants like camomile instead of turf on those areas.

While looking round the back of the plot I noticed the body of what I first thought was a mouse, but on closer inspection turned out to be a small rat…a small, headless rat. Lovely. Looks like the allotment cats/foxes are good at their job but quite discerning when it comes to the quality of their food. The rat obviously wasn’t certified Organic.

Note to the timid: Gratuitous headless rat photos follow



The one that didn't get away Scoop him up Grave digging for fun and profit Going in the hole...sorry, grave The semi-rat, semi-buried


Tinkery plans

October 17th, 2007

I’ve not made anything electronic for the allotment yet, but I thought I’d better document some of my ideas to justify the blog title, and so I don’t forget them…so anyway, here goes:

  • Solar power for the shed -
    • Some solar panels on the roof will either run small items directly or will charge batteries for use when the weather’s bad. I may run some LED lighting, power the radio or maybe run some PIC based electronic circuits.
  • Solar soil heating -
    • Using old cooling pipes from a fridge I’ll make a solar water heater which then circulates the hot water through pipes laid under the soil to make it toasty warm. I might not need to do this one, but the idea appeals to me. This solar heater is similar to what I have in mind.
  • Data logging -
    • Using one-wire temperature sensors from Maxim/Dallas IC and possibly light, humidity and water sensors, I’ll create a data-logging system to monitor various environmental statistics.
  • Wireless data link -
    • Our house is only 0.5616 miles from the allotment, as the crow flies, so a wireless link of some kind is not out of the question. Depending on what kind of link I can get working I’d probably use it in conjunction with the data logging system to send back information from sensors.
  • Wireless voice communications -
    • I bought a cheap pair of ‘walkie-talkie’ type radio transceivers a while ago. They claim to have a 3km range (line-of-sight) and although it’s quite crowded between here and the allotment, it’s less than a kilometer away so I have some hope of it working. I’ll test that at some point soon. It’d be good to be able to hassle Lucy while she’s down there slaving away.
  • Greenhouse climate control -
    • To keep the temperature in the greenhouse stable I plan on making a solar powered climate control system. This would consist of a temperature sensor and maybe a humidity sensor linked to a servo motor which will open and close a hinged hatch in the roof. When the temp rises beyond a preset level the hatch will open and when the temperature falls the hatch will close.
  • Automated watering system -
    • This will monitor soil moisture and air temperature then water plants based on the readings. It may be solar powered where possible and the water will come from butts that have collected rain. It will water at night to minimise water loss by evaporation.

Those are just some of my ideas at the moment. I’ll update my progress as I go along and write up new ideas whenever I think of something that’s half-decent. I’m not aiming for 100% practical ideas, some things I’d just like to try out to see if they can be done and for the experience of doing them.

I can’t wait until I have some more free weekends, then I should be able to put some of my plans to the test.

More clearing

October 17th, 2007

Yesterday Lucy went down to the allotment at about 3 O’Clock to do a bit more clearing while I was forced to stay trapped inside working. When half-five rolled around I hopped on my bike and rode down to meet her. It was the first time I’d ridden there and I was pretty surprised at how quick the journey was. From door to gate it was only about 5 minutes. According to Google Maps Pedometer it’s only 0.6869 miles so it’s really quite close.

When I got there Lucy had done a fantastic job of clearing up the area between the shed and greenhouse, it’s now looking very neat and tidy. I got to work clearing a disintegrated bench away from the fence next to the shed. Clearing the wood from the old bench was simple, but underneath it were numerous plastic sacks that had turned into tiny plastic shards, which now litter the soil. We’ve decided to be very careful about using any plastics on the allotment since nearly every bottle or bag that we’ve found so far has become brittle over time and started to litter the place with coloured flakes.

By the time we left at 7 it was getting very difficult to see, a problem that’ll get worse soon when the clocks go back. It was looking nice though from what I could see in the dim twilight. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be able to get back down there this week and the weekend after’s not looking hopeful either as I’ll be in London. I’ll have to try and cram in some more after-work sessions.

Down on the farm

October 14th, 2007

Our greenhouse The greenhouse as we found it Nice old watering cans It's been very hot at some point A top-down view

Lucy working hard Harriet Joff Looking down the plot Relaxing with the radio

Just started clearing Semi-cleared, lots more to do After much clearing

This morning we went to a genuinely ‘Massive Boot Sale’. I picked up a little portable radio with 7 Shortwave bands, Mediumwave, Longwave and FM - Perfect for allotment listening. Lucy bought a nice sturdy looking fork with a smooth wooden handle, meaning that we now have a fork each to get digging with.

When we’d finished at the boot sale we came back to the house and made up some sandwiches (made with the lettuce Mike gave us yesterday), filled a thermos with hot water for tea and packed everything up in the car, then off we went to the allotment.

We managed to clear nearly all the overgrown plants at the back of the plot and Lucy did a great job clearing the greenhouse and pulling out some very spikey plants with roots that didn’t want to give up their hold on the soil.

There was an enormous amount of chicken wire and thick plastic netting buried in amongst all the plants which took quite a bit of pulling and cutting to set free, but it was worth it in the end to see the area looking like something you could actually plant into.

The shed is 6′ x 4′ with a roof that slope quite sharply backwards, the inside needed a good clean out. Luckily no rodents had taken up residence, or if they had they’d moved on when they heard us coming. There were still some enormous spiders to be found lurking in the corners though. At some point I’ll refit the insides with new shelves and a decent floor that doesn’t let in the plants and mice. Currently it’s all a bit ramshackle, but it’ll do for the time being.

We got there around 12:30 today and didn’t leave until 18:30, it was a nice long day’s digging.

Ours at last

October 13th, 2007

Looking up. Before we touched it It's got holes, but it works just fine The shed hiding amongst the weeds Lucky Number 7 DANGER 132000 VOLTS

Shed door Chunky old lock The shed in need of a clean What the mice left behind Spider's eye view

High tech wall retaining system Happiness Five star facilities Rusty tank In the old bath then on the heap

This morning we sorted out all the details and got the keys to our shiny new allotment, huzzah!

As we got onto the plot an old guy came over from one of the allotments opposite, turned both his hearing aids up and shouted a nice warm welcome at us. It seems that we’ve taken over ‘Old Bob’s plot’. He’d been there 20 years before we got there and had left at the start of October to live overseas with his family. Cheers Bob!

After that we got on with the long job on tidying the place up. Even though the majority of the land was cleared, the area between the shed and greenhouse at the rear of the plot was completely overgrown, and the inside of the greenhouse needed some clearing out.

A little way into the trimming, cutting and tidying a guy we’d seen on our first visit to the site drove past a little way, then stopped and got out. We went over and had a chat and introduced ourselves. The man, whose name turned out to be Mike, was a nice guy who has quite a few plots a little way up from our own. He gave us 6 lettuces as a moving in present, and because he had a bit of a glut. I like allotment people!

First visit

October 10th, 2007

I took my lunchbreak early today and we went down to check out our potential allotment. The lady who runs the allotments showed us 5 or 6 sites in the end, I’d lost count after a while. The 5 rod plot with the greenhouse that she’d mentioned on the phone turned out to have a 4 year old asparagus plot on it and some quite established blackberries growing on it, neither of which we’d really be able to move.

The other plots we saw were all okay, but nothing that special. The one that really caught our eye was the 10 rod plot with the greenhouse that was top of our shortlist before we’d even seen it. It lived up to our expectations with both sheds being in good condition and the greenhouse looking like it’d been well cared for. Another bonus was that the previous owner had done a pretty good job of clearing the land so we’d have a real clean slate to work with. Of course, we decided to take the plot!

I had to get back to work by this time, so the lady in charge of the allotments gave us a little round-up of all the costs and we agreed to come back on Saturday morning to pay for everything and collect the keys.

Top of the list

October 3rd, 2007

Finally! After more than a year of waiting Lucy and I have made it to the top of the waiting list for an allotment. We received a letter this morning and Lucy gave the lady in charge a call to arrange a viewing. We’ve decided to go down next Wednesday at 10:00 to see what the available plots look like. From what the woman said on the phone there seems to be a 10 Rod plot with 2 sheds and a green house, the previous owner wants £100 for them on top of the plot costs; a 10 Rod plot with nothing on; and finally a 5 Rod plot with a greenhouse, which the previous owner wanted £150 for, ouch!

A rod is 5.5 yards (5.03 metres) and a 10 rod plot is actually 10 square rods, so a 10 rod plot is a pretty decent size for 2 people to work. After getting over the initial shock of having to pay extra for the shed/greenhouse on the 10 rod plot, I’ve decided that it sounds like the best option.