So it’s not summer any more then?

After the blazing heat, June has turned into a month of weather misery so far. Yesterday and today we have had thunderstorms which I don’t mind at all, though it does mean I have to unplug the phone and internet connection because our phone lines are overhead and I’ve lost network hardware before in such storms. Today however we also had half an inch of rain in an hour. The house guttering just gave up trying to cope with the volume of water:

Outside the door a “pond” about 30mm to 40mm deep appeared in a matter of minutes.

I dread to think what it’s going to be like tomorrow, when “heavy rain” is forecast all day.

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Veg plot 2021: The compost arrives

I ordered this last week because I wasn’t 100% sure what I’d get and I wanted time to think things over depending on what turned up. As it happens I’m quite pleased. I didn’t get my full order of six tonnes because they could only fit 5.8 tonnes on the truck. The driver told me I’d ordered at a good time because the compost was relatively dry. Apparently many people order during the winter and actually get less compost for their money because it’s holding more moisture at that time of year. This is what turned up:

First impressions are that it’s very clean, black, and surprisingly still slightly warm. It looks very good. Better, if I’m honest, than the compost we make in our own bins. I had it tipped on top of a tarpaulin and I’ve covered it over with a couple more so it can sit there for the next few months until I need it and not get covered in weed seeds and suchlike.

I shouldn’t need so much next year, but I’m already tempted to order a full load again so I can spread a fair bit on the flower beds. And in fact if I have too much I can always just stack it up somewhere out of the way, cover it over and use it as needed.

So, next I need to think about planning the planting whilst avoiding losing track of things this year…

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Veg plot 2021: Going “no dig”

It’s very early to be thinking about next year’s veg plot now perhaps, but I think I might need to.

I’d heard about “no dig” gardening a few times and a couple of local farmers seem to be doing well by moving to “minimal till” agriculture so I thought I’d try to find out a bit more. Eventually that turned up links to Charles Dowding’s youtube channel which makes for interesting watching. I bought one of his books and having read it I think I’m going to give it a go next year.

I should point out that I don’t agree with everything he writes. The stuff about planting according to the cycles of the Moon and other astrological drivel is utter rubbish. Ill thought-out and unjustifiable hogwash masquerading as science. I have no time for it. His ideas about cultivation and raising plants in pots to plant out immediately a previous crop finishes however seem to be worth a try. I think I shall stick with rotating my crops too, as I have the space. And yes, I like the idea of not having to dig from the point of view of reducing ground preparation time, too.

So, my idea for next year is to turn my 14m x 12m plot into seven beds as 1.2m wide strips with a 0.6m path between them. I might use a little more space and go for an eighth strip. I’m not sure. The paths will be covered with woodchip and then I need to add a large amount of compost for the beds. In fact, far more compost than we’ll create in total this year. To that end I started looking around for compost in large volumes. Some of the DIY sheds appear to do it in dumpy bags, but actually they didn’t look an awful lot cheaper than 40l bags from the local garden centre. Then I found that the people who handle the green waste for the local council sell it in volume and will deliver. I got a few opinions and whilst there were warnings that it might contain a lot of rubbish that wasn’t compost I found that local farmers do use it, so eventually I decided to order six tonnes for delivery, which worked out at £30/tonne plus £84 for delivery.

There’s still much more to do though. I think a far greater level of planning is required if you wish to get more than one crop out of the available space each year and I need to organise what can be planted after what else and when it needs to be sown so it is ready to go out at the right time. It’s all a big experiment, but I’m quite looking forward to it.

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Veg plot 2020, #6

Not sure this is an entirely welcome visitor. I suspect it may be nibbling on our pea shoots as they’re looking a bit sorry for themselves below a height of about 20cm.

Unless I’m much mistaken it’s a Red Legged Partridge. I’ve not seen one around here for years.

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Veg plot 2020, #5

When strolling around checking on things a few evenings back I noticed a few positive changes…

We have courgettes on the way:

and some strawberries, though we won’t get many this year because they’re new plants.

And some tiny chiles in the polytunnel

Looks like something has been digging in one of the beds, too. I suspect it might have been a pheasant trying to have a dust bath. I shall have to do something to discourage that…

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Veg plot 2020, #4

A few photos from late May. I’d spent a fair bit of time over the previous few days getting bits and pieces done in the veg plot, though hadn’t entirely finished.

In this corner I have some butternut squashes with lettuces planted around them. By the time the squashes take over the lettuces will be well eaten. Behind them are a few different varieties of peas and beyond them the climbing beans, still in their protective cages to stop them getting out and attacking any passing deer (I even saw one — a deer that is — in the orchard in the middle of the day over the weekend). At the top right in the background it’s just possible to make out all the beehive kit I’ve been moving from the old apiary to what’s going to be the new apiary for a year or two (it’s actually the pig run, but I have fencing repairs to do before we can have any more pigs and I’m not sure I’ll get that done in the near future).

This is mostly potatoes, in need of a bit of earthing up. The nearest row is (mostly) the same variety as Jersey Royal, then there are Charlotte in the next row, then King Edward and Maris Piper. The really boisterous ones on the left are Picasso, which came to me indirectly from a local farmer who grows them commercially. I was given them for free, so it seemed a shame not to plant them 🙂 There are a few failures it seems, which is a bit disappointing, but not as bad as the peas where one variety has completely failed to germinate but for one seedling 🙁

And here I’ve got a mixture of red and white onions, lettuces, carrots, radish and a few other salad veg. Some of the plants haven’t done so well near the edges of the bed. I suspect that’s because of the sycamore trees that are out of shot to the right. Over the winter I may well dig a trench just outside the veggie plot to cut all the tree roots off. It will still be a good five or six metres from the trunk, so shouldn’t destabilise them at all. Massively over-exposed at the top left is the polytunnel, behind which we have storage for five thousand litres of water that we pump out of our well to use to water everything. To my surprise given that we’re pretty much on top of a hill and have had very little rain for a couple of months, water is still pouring out of the underlying rock and our land drains.

That evening for dinner we had a salad from some of the thinnings from the row of lettuces and radishes with home-made fish cakes which was lovely.

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One of the more unusual bee swarms I have collected

I received a phone call from a local chap who said he had a swam of bees that had just settled in a rusty 45 gallon drum in his yard and could I take them away because they were actually in quite an inconvenient place right next to the entrance to his yard. Just after lunch I nipped over there and this is what they’d moved into:

Both ends of the drum have rotted away a little giving access and they’d clearly found it and decided it would make a good place to live. Not entirely sure about that myself when the full sun got on it, but they don’t always make the best choices.

I decided the only way to deal with it would be to take the entire drum away and put it in the apiary where I could try to entice them out of it, so this evening I returned and cut all the surrounding vegetation away so I could lift it out. It turns out that even rusty 45 gallon drums are a bit awkward to handle when you’re trying not to disturb the contents 🙂 To stop the bees panicking and flying out which would have been a touch awkward I put the drum onto a couple of sheets and wrapped the entire thing up.

And I now know that such a drum will fit quite neatly into the back of an Octavia Estate 😀

The drive home was exceptionally gentle, and I stayed in my bee suit “just in case”.

Sadly I couldn’t persuade the bees to move out of the drum and a few days later they decided to leave altogether. I hope they’ve found somewhere else good to live.

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NEQ6 belt mod, part #8

Prompted by someone else’s success at improving his RA axis backlash, this evening I returned to mine and ended up disassembling the entire axis once again just to make sure I’d put everything back together as well as I could.

In the process I discovered that whilst the instructions suggest that the entire process can be done with the mount on the tripod, actually to insert the RA axis back into the lower section of the mount I found it easier to take a different approach. The “middle” bearing on the RA axis can be a bit of a pig, it seems. In use it sits right next to the upper bearing (which is inside the brass RA gear) and fits into place in the lower section of the mount. If it goes in anything other than perfectly true however, eventually something ends up binding and it isn’t possible to get the mount head into place properly. So what I ended up doing was sitting the entire RA and DEC assembly on a flat surface so the polar scope cap is down and the RA axis pointing straight up, like this:

The bearing can then be fed onto the RA axis all the way down. I found it still “grabbed” a bit in places, but rotating the bearing seemed to make that easier. I assume the RA axis isn’t perfectly round. I then took the lower section off the pier and fed that over the top as well. This is much easier because it’s lighter and it’s now possible to see the end of the RA axis as it passes through the mount, so it’s possible to keep everything pretty well lined up. The tapered thrust bearing can then be dropped into place easily followed by the retainer. With everything done up finger tight it can be returned to the pier/tripod for final reassembly.

I suspect the backlash I was seeing was due to poor engagement of the worm and RA gear ring. I couldn’t see any particularly obvious end float in the worm, certainly. Now it is significantly reduced, to the point where I’m not sure I could get it any better.

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NEQ6 belt mod, part #7

The first step with the motors is to remove the mounting plate and idler gear.

And then the gear comes off the end of the motor drive shaft.

The new pulleys go on, together with the mounting plates. Orientation is apparently important here, especially for the RA motor as the cable probably won’t reach any other way. I actually labelled my motors when I removed them just to make sure I got the correct mounting plates etc. on the right motor (the plugs are different on the cabling, so if you get them the wrong way around they won’t go back on the controller board properly).

The plates holding the idler wheels go into the motor housing. This was perhaps the most awkward part of the entire job for me. The idea is that the tweezers in the kit are used to pinch the sides of the belt together and then the idler wheel plate is threaded onto the end of the tweezers and slid down their length so the belt feeds between the wheels. My hands are just not small enough to make this easy in such a small space. I have seen it suggested that an elastic band is looped around the drive belt before the axes are reassembled and that is used to pull the belts into place. It’s entirely possible that makes it easier. Anyhow, after “quite a few” attempts, I ended up with this:

The DEC belt was an equal measure of fun, but I got there in the end.

Into the finishing straight now… Refitting the motors was pretty straightforward although you do need a very long allen key or something similar to be able to reach far enough inside to be able to tighten the screws. It is also a bit strange because you can’t actually see if the motor pulley has engaged with the belt at all. I removed the worm end caps again (only those on the side showing here) and turned the end of the worm with a pair of pliers whilst watching the end of the motor drive shaft to see if it was also turning, whilst using a flat-bladed screwdriver to very gently adjust the tension on the belts by moving the mounting plates, but it’s still hard to know if you have enough (or too much) tension. In the end I decided I was happy enough.

My kit was also missing a flat washer and a spring washer for one screw for the idler mounts, so I took them off one of the old screws that were not being reused.

After that it was just a case of re-routing the RA motor leads, plugging everything back in and refitting the fascia.

And this is what’s left over:

Of course this isn’t quite the end of the job. There’s still the worm adjustment to do. I twiddled with the grub screws on each side of the worm housing (the one on the curved side moves the worm closer to the gear, the one on the flat side moves it away) until there was absolutely no play in the axis and then backed them off by about one turn, which gave a lot of backlash. I could then spin each axis through 360 degrees and check it ran freely. Each time it did I increased the gear engagement by at most an eighth of a turn and tried again. If the motor stalled or jumped at 800x slew speed then I backed it off a fraction until it didn’t.

What I’ve found is that the motor might jump at 800x, but at lower speeds it seems fine. I don’t feel that adjusting it for the slower speeds is sensible though. I don’t want high speed slews stalling or jumping. Unfortunately because there are clearly three or four very small spots where the meshing of the gears is just a little tight, this has meant that there’s still obvious backlash in the RA axis. A very small amount, certainly, but enough to be obvious. The DEC axis on the other hand is very good. There is backlash, obviously, but it is absolutely minimal. I think this may need more work. I have, for instance, been wondering if I can move those tight spots to a position where they’d never be used as they’re all in the same quadrant of the RA gear. I’m not sure that’s feasible, but I’m not sure it isn’t, either 🙂

The other thing I must mention is how astonishingly quiet the mount now is. Even kicking off an 800x slew there’s just the quiet hum of the motors. If I can I’ll try to post “before” and “after” recordings, but that’s for another day.

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NEQ6 belt mod, part #6

Now it’s time to return to the DEC axis. The process is pretty much the same as for the RA axis, starting with the removal of the clutch lever (having remembered to release the clutch first).

The worm housing should then just lift off (note the plastic shims here, too).

At this point, replacing the gear driving the worm is exactly the same as for the RA axis, so here we are again with that all done.

Reassembly is pretty much identical too, at which point the DEC axis can be put back on the mount. This was a touch awkward. I had to try three or four times before everything dropped into place correctly. I think it must be very sensitive to alignment and once I got it right everything just dropped into place easily.

That’s most of the hard disassembly/reassembly work done. All that remains is to modify the motors and refit them.

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