Thursday 25 July 2019

Watering the trees

Yesterday, in the heat of the afternoon, a volunteer and I were out watering the fruit trees. We served each tree with four buckets full of river water. That's roughly 16 gallons per tree. We'd had heavy overnight rain and thunder storms, but the ground was dry already.  Today is the hottest day of the year, about 34 deg C., and the trees are looking happier.  It was worth the sweat to carry the buckets around the orchard.  We did have the assistance of a petrol powered water pump to lift the water from the river.

Monday 27 May 2019

It's that lamb time of the year.

I visited the Turnditch Orchard yesterday to find lambs grazing on our grass and fruit trees. I don't mind them eating grass, but their munching the lower branches of the fruit trees causes a lot of long lasting damage. At least five trees and a section of new hedge have suffered damage by the lambs. The lambs come from the adjoining field. They are now big enough to graze away from their mums, but small enough to be able to get through any gaps. Last year we had no invasions having fixed all the fences.
New growth on apple tree damaged by sheep
Sheep damaged apple tree.
This year the lambs gained access through the field gate. It is a metal gate designed for cattle, but not small livestock. It has equal sized gaps across the gate and lambs easily wriggle through the gaps. A sheep gate has narrower gaps toward the base. Our own gate at the roadside is a sheep gate, otherwise those lambs might have been found wandering on the Ashbourne Road (A517). Our neighbour farmer had recognised this some years ago and had wired an old plank at the base of the gate to stop lambs wriggling through the gaps. The people using the public footpath like having a large gap at the foot of the gate to allow their dogs to pass through the gate. At some point, the plank wired to the gate has "disappeared", thus allowing the lambs to gain access to the orchard.  We had provided a "dog gate" which allowed access for dogs when the plank had been in place, but it requires 10 seconds of extra effort.

Dog gate installed between the lamb field and the orchard.

Dog gate, today, showing no sign of use

So now I've had to wire a section of stock fence to the gate to stop all animals from wriggling through the gate. The dog gate remains available, though I know the farmer isn't too keen on having dogs in a field where there are lambs. Strictly speaking, we do not have to provide access for dogs on a public footpath, just humans have a right of way on foot, but so long as no damage arises it is not a problem for us. The stiles remain for the walkers.

Gate, wired with stock fence

Thursday 23 May 2019

Sorry Sir, we don't make that part anymore

We're late cutting the grass in the orchard this year.  Essentially I've been busy on other projects and "the grass can wait".  One of the neighbours kindly helped me out one recent weekend by mowing approximately two thirds of the grass using our Hyundai Field Trimmer. Considering he'd never used it before, he did a really good job. Thank you Ian!

After we'd packed up for the day, I thought it was about time I gave the machine its annual service. This normally just changing the oil, which is messy because the drain plug is not well positioned on the Hyundai.  Now I use an oil vacuum pump which makes life a lot easier, but you have to remember to measure the amount of oil you've removed. When filling with fresh oil it needs to match the amount you remove. Over filling creates some spectacular smoke clouds from the exhaust if you operate the trimmer down a hill slope.

This year I decided to change the spark plug and the carburettor air filter. The plug change was easy, though it did highlight the spark gap on the old plug was too wide. A correctly gapped plug made a good improvement to the starting process. I also looked at the air filter. It was quite dirty so it definitely needed a change. I'd ordered a replacement air filter a couple of weeks before, and had it ready. Unfortunately when I came to swap out the old and new filters, I discovered the new filter was too small, by about 1 cm in width and breadth. It wouldn't lodge securely in the filter holder on the field trimmer. I  took some photo's of the parts and contacted the suppliers. "I'm sorry, it looks like we sent you the wrong filter. We'll post you the correct one immediately."

I waited a week, but nothing arrived, so I contacted the distributor again. "We have sent you one, but it must have gone astray in the post. We'll send you another by tracked mail."  Sure enough, a couple of days later the new filter arrived.  It was still too small, the same size as the original one they'd sent to me. I made contact again and we agreed that Hyundai had probably changed the design of the air filter and housing.  I'd purchased the machine in 2014, so I was disappointed the spare part was no longer available. However, by good luck, my workshop is set up for resin casting and making Silicone Rubber moulds. I told the distributor, not to worry and that I would cast a mould in silicone rubber to adapt the new filter block to make it suitable for mounting on the "old" field trimmer.

When I checked my supplies of silicone rubber, I decided not to open an expensive new can of the component parts, but that I'd just use bathroom silicone sealant. It is essentially the same as silicone rubber, but uses moisture rather than a catalyst hardener to cure to its tough rubbery state.

Draw around original filter shape on to polyethylene plastic

Cut a cardboard template to the shape of the base

Build a plasticine mould to the outline on the plastic

Position the new filter centrally in the outline

Hold the filter in place using a weight, then apply silicone in the gap

I left the assembly overnight and extracted the casting later in the morning. The silicone had hardened quite well and is a very close fit to the replacement filter. It is now installed and working well in the Hyundai Field Trimmer.

Tuesday 23 April 2019

Spreadsheets in an orchard?

The Turnditch Orchard is associated with  the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, they help us and we help them, mostly because of our work on the river bank.  Today I had a spreadsheet sent to me, via email, by one of their members for completion. It's being sent to all the Derwent/Ecclesbourne catchment area "partners" to check progress on projects.  Thankfully this is nothing to do with the Turnditch Orchard project, but it brought back horrible memories of my life in a large corporation. There various managers would use Excel spreadsheets for data collection from multiple people.  Excel spreadsheets  are one of the worst ways of collecting data from multiple people, creating enormous duplication of effort and an invitation to provide the wrong version of the wrong data.

I'm so glad my work is now just cutting grass and tending trees.

There are far better methods of collecting data from multiple people!! I always call spreadsheets "instant legacy systems", as they become impossible to maintain when the original author moves on.

Thursday 11 April 2019

Improving payments around Belper.

Recently I have become really annoyed with the service offered by the NatWest Bank They've closed the local Branches for no good reason. They claimed lack of business for Belper Branch that always seemed to have a queue. They've also closed their ATM. I've also had problems with their debit card, but more about that later. Considering the amount of business I've put through for my Company and indeed the purchase of the orchard land you'd think they'd be more responsive.

I've started looking around for an alternative banking method, and purely by chance, I think I found it in the Belper branch of Wilko's, an ironmonger and household goods store! It will also reduce the costs of spending money when you are travelling overseas.

I was buying an Easter present for my wife, but approaching the cashier desk, I saw a stand containing various gift and store cards. I don't know why, but one card caught my attention. It was the Revolut prepaid bank card. It had a VISA Logo on the package. It priced at £4.95, but given the problems with NatWest I thought it might be worth a try. There was not much detail on the packaging, but I purchased it and came home to the Old Post Office. I was soon sat in front of my PC investigating my impulse buy on the Internet.

Like most pre-paid bank cards it works by you loading some money from your Bank Account, or from other income sources. You can then use the card like a normal CHIP and PIN Bank Debit Card, with the benefit that you cannot spend more than you've loaded. So it helps keep spending under control and prevents a raid on your main bank account if someone acquires your card.

Signing up to the service is undertaken using your smartphone, either Apple or Android, you need an existing bank account, a debit card to load money and your driving licence. Just fill in the details, hook up your debit card details, photograph your driving licence and when they ask take a face selfie using the smart phone. I received "approval" within 30 minutes from Revolut. It was a smooth and easy process.

I've since used the card to pay bills and to withdraw cash from an ATM. With the ATM I used at the COOP, there was no transaction fee(*1).  With a pre-paid debit card I have from another supplier (Optimum), there's a fee to withdraw money. All standard stuff so far, but it gets better.

The Revolut Card offers foreign currency facilities in a wide range of currencies. What is different is that the exchange rate offered is at the Interbank Rate rather than an inflated offered by the bank and credit card companies. When you purchase something on your travels, use the card to pay in the local currency. This avoids a rip off pricing by the retailer and also rip off foreign currency exchange rates by the Debit/Credit card. You can also use the card at foreign ATM machines, ticket machines, fuel stations, restaurants, shops etc. The same applies for Internet purchases, where banks will charge in the region of 6% - 10% in fees and poor their exchange rates when you pay by Debit Card.

I'd not be surprised to see savings on expenditures of more than 10 - 15% compared with paying in Sterling (GBP) on a standard bank card in an overseas location.

You can pre-buy currency in advance and store it in an electronic "vault" offered by Revolut and then easily use it for foreign currency payments. This way you can take advantage of those times when currency exchange rates fluctuate and the pound (GBP) is strong. No more rip-off airport/hotel currency exchange rates.

When your card detail is used for a purchase Revolut messages your smartphone and you can easily check balances via your smartphone. You can also freeze/unfreeze your card from your phone.

Sending money to/from friends in most currencies is easy and fast(*2). A web page link (URL) is generated. It displays a request to pay/receive the amount which used by the friend/company to effect the transfer.  It also helps you to "split the bill" between friends and to be paid back. Once the card is approved, you can receive bank transfer payments direct from your employer or your own main bank account.

I opted to subscribe to the Revolut Premium Card (£8/Month) which offers travel insurance and also virtual disposable cards. You can generate a card number and security code which is for once only usage. So if you are paying on some dodgy website for a service/product and you don't want them to see your main card details, this is ideal.

This brings me back to my problems with the NatWest Bank. Three times in the past three months they have frozen my NatWest Bank card and replaced it twice. On one of those occasions it was because the police told them my card details might be compromised, but they would even tell me which suppliers system had been hacked. On the other two occasions, the card freezing was because of "false positives" by the NatWest's own security system. NatWest send a notification via SMS text message which seems to arrive at 3:30 am and in some cases is greatly delayed. 

You realise there's a problem when suddenly your card doesn't work any more, then you have a week's wait before you can access your bank account.  If you are overseas on holiday/business trip you might not even get the warning SMS message that you card has been frozen.  Hotels take a dim view when it is time to check out and you only have a dud NatWest Card! You can't even go to an ATM to draw out additional cash. When there's a replacement card you have to remember to update all those accounts which used the old card details, it can mean missed payments to suppliers.


  1. I've since discovered a Standard Revolut Card allows up to £200 cash from ATM/Month, then they charge 2% of the amount.  With the Premium Card it is £400 cash/month before a 2% charge applies.
  2. There are limits to the size of sum that can be paid/received from/to friends. It is around £200. If both parties have a Revolut Card there isn't a limit that I've found.
  3. The account is actually quite good for currency trading. By dumb luck, I bought £50 worth of Bitcoin. It's Sterling value has doubled in less than a month. Being a coward, I've sold it back to Sterling, but that has effectively paid for this year's premium account.

Sunday 3 March 2019

Is the old Ash tree dying?

I was on the orchard this morning to retrieve some fence posts. I noticed the large old Ash tree has dropped another large branch. That's the third large branch the tree has shed in the space of 12 months. This branch weighed about 50 kilos, I'm glad no one was under that when it fell, and thankfully it missed all the young fruit trees.
I think the tree is about 150 years old, maybe it has started to die of old age. Over the past few autumns I've noticed some honey fungus at the base of the trunk. 

Edit 26th May 2019:

The leaves on the big Ash tree are quite slow to appear this year, well behind the other ash trees around the orchard.

Sunday 24 February 2019

Another sapling installed

Today, I took advantage of the good weather to transplant a Black Walnut sapling into the orchard. I'd pre-prepared the hole and support post so the process was straight forward. This time it already had soil on the root ball so it should take without too many problems. I had some treeguard tubes available so I was able to protect the slim trunk from rabbit/squirrel damage.

It is fascinating to wonder if I'd still be alive to see the nuts harvested from the tree I just planted. I'm in my mid-sixties so I should have a decade or too left to me. It's the old story, you plant trees for the next generation.

There's a great backlog of work to catch up in the orchard. Mother nature doesn't care if you've been unfit. The sunny weekend day saw plenty of people stopping by for a chat. It slows the work but is most welcome.

Thursday 21 February 2019

No to Fracking in Turnditch

We'll be opposing the move to create a fracking site on the orchard. Meanwhile we managed to get some hedge cutting done as our fitness returns. We found a good number of old nests in the hedges, an increase over previous years.

We've noticed the soil is quite dry for mid-February.  Hopefully we'll get some meaningful rain this Spring.

Monday 18 February 2019

Spring is not far away

Finally, after recovering from a surgical operation and a subsequently badly sprained ankle, after a 5 month delay I was finally able to get back on the orchard yesterday and today.  I was taking it easy and just planted a Fig shrub and a small Apricot tree (bare roots). I had to clear back some unwanted Elm shrub to provide space for the new arrivals. My folding Silky saw was very handy.

The fig and apricot trees are positioned against a south facing concrete retaining wall. Hopefully that will provide enough shelter and reflected heat to help them flourish.