Thursday, 4 June 2020

The weak link

Some time ago we bought a couple of long extension leads to allow us to bring mains power to all corners of the garden.   We bought cheap ones.  They quickly became a pain to use, for reasons too complicated to go into.    A couple of weeks ago while I was struggling to reel in the cable after use, I decided that I'd had enough, and that I had to replace it.  I ordered one like the one shown below from Amazon.  It arrived bent, although there was not a single mark or dent on the packaging.  I'm assuming that it was OK when packed, and that couriers are the weak link in our brave new world of internet purchases.

I can't fault Amazon.  I went on their website and it was easy to print off a returns label, re-order, and in due course the thing arrived again, in good condition this time.

But I have to say, I'm more inclined these days to buy things that are any combination of big, heavy, delicate or expensive, in a shop, even if that means paying a premium - and it often doesn't.   I have recently ordered a petrol lawn mower online on a DIY chain's website.  It will be delivered to my local DIY store, where I will collect it.   And it was the cheapest of all the options that I could find anywhere for that product - that works for me.   I can leave it with them if it's damaged, and I have somewhere to take it for after-sales service.

The frame of the old extension cable, being made of metal, is in the recycling.  As for the lead itself,  the insulation had nicks and holes in it, and was coming away from the cores at each end.  I cut it at each damaged point, ending up with 4 good cable lengths.  I bought in-line plugs and sockets and made 4 medium-length extension leads out of it.  I think you're not allowed to do that in England any more, am I right?   I think you're not allowed to buy the bits, or it has to be done by a "professional".

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Watering trees

I planted some Hornbeams in the field opposite, last Autumn.   They are supposed to like lime soil, be drought tolerant, and make good firewood.  Ideal.  I put in 25 at the far side of my 2 hectare field.

I can find 21 of them, I'm not sure what happened to the rest, I think they got dug up and eaten.  Those that remain show serious signs of having been nibbled, probably by a hare or rabbit.   The hot dry Spring didn't do them any good either, and some were showing signs of drought damage.   There are some self-seeded Walnut trees in the field too, and even they are showing some dead leaves that came out too early and dried up.

I decided to make an effort to water the new trees frequently to protect them from this hot weather.  I started out by carrying two watering cans across the field, putting half a can on each tree.  6 return trips, it took an hour and a half, and made my arms ache.   I needed a better option if I am going to be doing this all Summer.

Here is the solution.   I have a sit-on mower, 22 horsepower, with a towing ball on the back.  I have a trailer that it can pull, and a couple of plastic dustbins that I used to store Dahlia tubers in over Winter.  Put the dustbins in the trailer, fill them with water and use the mower to take them over.   When in place, use the watering can on the trees.

For the nibbling problem, I spotted an ad in the French national small ads website, for some used tree protectors: thick plastic mesh, and poles for support.  Perfect, €1.50 each.

As an aid to getting the mower over my unkempt field, I asked a neighbour to come and make a path around it (leaving the trees that are in the path; I can weave around them) using his 100hp tractor and flail mowers.  It worked a treat, and I can now get the trailer all around the field with no problem.

The trees are responding to the water, and all, or nearly all, are showing signs of new growth.   You can even see that the grass is greener where I have been watering.

My Husqvarna mower has done good service over the years.  It has needed its share of spare parts, but then I haven't been gentle with it.  Truth is, though, I should have bought a small tractor instead, a diesel, one that has a central mowing deck like the Husqvarna, but that has all the other possibilities of a tractor.   It would have cost about 7 times the mower though, and at the time I never even thought about it.

Monday, 18 May 2020

Cherry ripe

A long time ago when I was in junior school, the headmaster organised for some professional singers to come and interpret some works for us.   One of the songs that the lady of the team sang was Cherry Ripe.  For whatever reason, that song has stayed with me, and it's going through my head as I pick the ripe cherries from a tree in the garden.

The tree has been there for a good 15 years, and last year was the first time it gave any cherries.  It is covered in fruit again this year, and it's a competition between the birds and me to see who can get there first.

This afternoon I was watering the potatoes and enjoying a few stolen cherries, when I heard a bird in the tree.   In amongst the foliage near the top, it was hanging upside-down to eat the dangling fruit.  It looks to me like a great spotted woodpecker, a female since it had a red splodge on the lower belly but none on the head.  The first photo below is the best I could do before it flew off.  It's hard to spot but it's right in the middle of the picture, and the blurry red area just by the intersection of the two branches is its red behind.  its head is down and to the right.  You're looking at its back, from below.   Another masterpiece in support of my secret ambition to become a BBC wildlife photographer.

Sunday, 17 May 2020


I don't know what to do for the best in growing potato plants.   The problem is that they sprout too early, so I feel obliged to plant them too early, and then I worry about the plants until the last frosts.

I order them online, and they arrive mid-January onwards.  I keep them in a cool, dark, frost-free place and check on them from time to time.  By April they have long stringy shoots, and are starting to shrivel, so I feel obliged to plant them as soon as possible.  I have to keep an eye on the forecast, and cover any emerging shoots with newspaper if there's any chance of frost.

We have had a very warm Winter and Spring, and my potatoes have been in the ground since early April.   I have been fretting about possible air frosts since they poked above the soil.   It doesn't help that the forecast keeps changing.   Recently we have had overnight lows of 4°C which is close to an air frost, but we have been spared frost, and now things seem to be set fair for the rest of the year.

The plants are looking good.  They're about a foot high, and the first ones are in flower.   Fingers crossed for a decent harvest.

Advice on management of potato planting gratefully received.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

More fauna

Bold as brass, a hare in the courtyard this morning.

Friday, 1 May 2020


A rabbit in my garden.  Quite a handsome one, but I'm not sure his presence is a good thing.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Boiler repair

The Heizomat boiler has been pretty reliable over the 12 years it has been installed.   The manufacturer claims a working life of 35 - 40 years.   But it started playing up.  It burns wood, there is a series of electric motors that feed the wood into the boiler, and two fans that blow air to aid the combustion.  Whenever wood is being fed into the boiler, the fans blow all that time.   Their speed is set by a computer.

The problem was that the fans were only blowing intermittently instead of continuously, and were blowing less and less over a period of some days.  Eventually the boiler went out.  When I restarted it, the fans blew for a higher proportion of the time, but not for all the time that they should.

The diagnosis was most likely a problem with the controlling computer card, or a tiny possibility that it was the control panel screen.   Rather than pay for a replacement of both I opted for just the new controller card, and since we're in lockdown I agreed with the after-sales guys that I would fit it myself.

Here is a picture of the old card in place, with its protective perspex cover and some of the plugs removed.  I replaced it with the new card, and restarted the boiler.  No sparks, no bangs, which is a good start.  The boiler seemed to work well, and I shut it off after a week or so because the weather was warm.  But since the problem was intermittent, I won't really know until I run the boiler for at least a couple of months, which will be in the Autumn.

I suppose that if the boiler is going to fail, doing so when there are no customers is a good time to do it.   I wouldn't have liked to have to deal with this problem, and customers at the same time.   To follow:  The Phone Line Saga, currently a work in progress.

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