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.

Tuesday 28 April 2020

A round tuit

There have been numerous jobs around the house and garden that I've been meaning to do, when I could get around to it.   Well, now, in lockdown, I can.

One of the things that has been bugging me is the Box hedge.   It's a slow-growing hedge, it was planted 12 years ago when the individual plants were about 6 inches tall.  Some of it has at last reached the required height.  It got its first trim this week.

The second photo shows part of the near hedge in the first photo, the second hedge a bit farther away, and also on the far right, a short section of the third hedge.  The third hedge hasn't grown as well as the other two, so it will be a couple of years before I have to trim it.   There is a fourth one, even farther away, that is growing even more slowly.  

The Cotoneaster hedge continues to grow like Topsy, and I trimmed that too.   Never, ever plant a Cotoneaster hedge unless you have a mechanical, powered, means of keeping it in shape, that does all the work.    Such as a tractor with a set of trimming blades. 

The arch kind of grew itself, as one year I left the trimming too late, so the excess growth flopped over the gap.  I thought it might make a nice feature.

Monday 27 April 2020

Rock splitting

The Mayenne département is know for the depth and fertility of its soil.  Not at my place.  Fertile yes, but deep, no.  There's about two foot of soil, then limestone rock.  Consequently, there is a lot of stone and large rocks about, some of which are too big for me to shift.

I bought some stone splitters a while ago, here is a picture of two of them.  They are made of hard steel, and comprise two outer wedges that you put into the rock, and a tapered inner wedge that you hammer between them to split the rock.   The rubber loop at the top keeps the whole lot together.

I had a chance to try them out yesterday.  I had a big rock to move, so big that it took all my weight to roll it anywhere, and was impossible for me to lift.    I used my big 1KWatt SDS hammer action drill to make some holes in the rock along a line that seemed to correspond to the grain.  I pushed the wedges in and started hammering.   Piece of cake.   The rock split into two bits, and I repeated the process until I had a number of small manageable pieces.  It took most of the afternoon, though.

Tuesday 14 April 2020

Bean poles

I grew climbing Borlotto beans last year, and got a good harvest.  But the stakes and twigs I put up for them to climb on didn't work very well.  I had cut some twiggy branches off the Hazelnut trees in the garden, and stuck them into the ground, but the weight of the beans eventually made them fall over, and the whole lot dragged on the ground.

This year I am trying sterner measures.  Leo gave me 12 good stout bamboo poles last Autumn, that have been drying in the shed over Winter.  I have used them to make a stable frame based on triangles, that shouldn't fall down, assuming the knots hold.   I have been leaning Hazelnut branches and twigs against this frame, tying them on, so I hope that this year the beans will have good support.

I'll be putting down runner beans, Borlotto beans, and I'm also going to see if the sweet pea seeds I saved from 2018 are going to germinate, maybe I can grow them up the poles too.  I just love sweet peas.

Monday 13 April 2020

Brainstem programming

So I was walking along the path in the garden, and suddenly I stopped.  Not that I intended to stop; my body just stopped of its own accord.  A moment of puzzlement, followed by understanding.  Ah, that would be because of the snake in my way.

Quite a big snake, maybe 18 inches long, brown, not much in the way of markings, no "V" on the head, no obvious zig-zag pattern.  Aha, says I, a grass snake.  I noticed that it had a very short tail.  You can't see it in the picture, but it was only about 3 or 4 inches long, quite short in relation to the rest of the snake.   I happened to have my camera with me, and took a picture.

I wandered inside to look up what kind of a grass snake it was.  I had trouble making a match.  Grass snakes have a small number of large scales on the head.  Well, mine didn't, not really; it had a lot of small scales.  Grass snakes have round pupils, and vipers have a slit.  This difference is definitive.  I couldn't see the eyes of my snake, but I enlarged the photo, and could just about make out the right eye.  Vertical slitty.  Oh.

So I look up vipers, and can't find anything that matches my snake.  But apparently the asp viper has markings, but on the male they are indistinct, or at least, less distinct that on the female.   The asp viper often has a "V" on the head.... but not necessarily.  And a notably short tail.  Ah.  Perhaps I have a male asp viper.   The bite, I read, is painful, and spreads, and is fatal in humans if untreated, in about 4% of cases.  I left it alone, and it was gone by the time I got back to it.

And the new lesson learnt today?   Just because it doesn't have a "V" on its head, doesn't mean it's not a viper.

Saturday 11 April 2020

The artisanat

It was November when an errant driver slammed his car into our gate, knocking down one of the posts and flinging the gate a short way down the drive.  The gate lost a few panels in the process, and a bit of the wall was taken down too.

There was no problem in principle with the driver's insurance paying up, but it was, apparently, up to us to get the quote.  The first guy we contacted couldn't come around for a few weeks, so we waited.  On the appointed morning he phoned up, said he couldn't make it, and asked if we could send some photos of the problem.  We did.  He came back to say that it wasn't the sort of thing that he did.  Back to square one.

The second guy we contacted is well-known in the area for doing good work.   He came around, took a look and promised a quote, that we got after again, a few weeks, having chased him a bit.   Nearly €1,000, taking the Mick in my view, or perhaps I chose the wrong career.   Anyway we sent it off to the insurance company, who rejected it, no surprise.

It's now April, some 5 months after the accident, so on Monday I decided to fix it myself.  I painted the bottom of the post with black protector paint, and hammered the bent hinges back into their proper positions.  I dug the hole out the next day, and got the gates aligned.  I set some concrete into the hole, and had to borrow some more from Leo to make it up to the right height.  Anita ordered a new gate stop to replace the one that had been broken in the crash.

The most time-consuming part of the job was breaking up the broken part of the wall into its constituent concrete and stone parts.  The stones I put on the wall (now a dry stone wall) and the concrete bits I'll use as a hardcore foundation for some steps I will be building soon.

Today I put the slats back on the gate, by straightening out the old nails and hammering them back in.  The gate is currently leaning against the post.  In a few days when the concrete has set a bit more, I'll hang the gate again, and then I'll be able to concrete in the new gate stop, once it arrives.

Cost:  One bag concrete, say €10, some black protector paint, say €2 worth, a gate stop €50 including VAT and delivery (not here yet) and about 7 hours' labour, say €100.   Yep, I chose the wrong career if I missed out on margins like that.


I planted this little clump of Bluebells under the Walnut tree, several years ago.  After a bit of a slow start, they seem to have installed themselves very well.  If they spread, I will take some and dot them around about.

Tuesday 7 April 2020

Bulk purchase

I wandered into the garden this morning, and noticed a big flat-bed trailer in the field next door.   It was loaded up with white bags of something that I took to be lime.   The contents were being spread onto the field by a tractor, a bit farther away.

The farmer was next to the trailer, so I said "hi", and asked him what was in the bags (maintaining a social distance, of course).  He told me that it was in fact fertiliser for the field, made from chicken manure, and formed into pellets.  It is one of the "natural" fertilisers that he can use whilst retaining the 'organic' label for the crops.

I buy a similar product for my garden from time to time, in local agricultural supplies shop, in little buckets of about 5 litres each.  It costs me about €25 per bucket, a bit less if it's on sale.   I figured these big sacks would be quite expensive so I asked him how much they cost.  He did some mental calculation and said "About 70 - 80 euros".

I told him how much I usually pay and asked him if he wouldn't mind filling up my bucket for a payment.  He filled my little bucket and wouldn't take any money.  What a nice man.

I will have to see about bulk purchase of fertiliser.

Saturday 4 April 2020


I have planted my potatoes.  I reckon we're probably about two weeks away from the last frosts, so they should be safe from damage, with a bit of luck.  I bought a few too many; around 100 seed potatoes in 4 different varieties.   For reference: Miss Blush, Anoe, Laurette and Linzer Delikatess.  Well, I'm sure we'll find a use for them all.

This bed where I planted most of them is where I grew the squash plants last year.  I had spread sheep manure, courtesy of Louis down the road, onto the ground, covered it all with a tarpaulin, cut some holes in the tarpaulin, and planted the squash seeds through the holes directly into the manure.  I got a good squash harvest, and now the manure has rotted well down to make an excellent soil.   I hope.

However, the best potato plants that I have at the moment are these ones on the compost heap.  They seem to be surviving the light air frosts we have been having, and maybe they will present me with the earliest crop of all.  I have no idea what variety they are, though.

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