Dressed for Summer

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Summer! Well, sort of. The wind continues to arrive obstinately from the north, and having helpfully dumped all of the rain on the people that live there, we are enjoying millions of hours of sunshine and surprisingly frigid temperatures. As I mentioned the last time that we met, we have determined that the vines are starting to get used to the idea of drinking in the sunshine and shrugging off the cold and they are continuing to motor their way through the early part of the growing season. I am having a little more difficulty with the idea and have spent much of the spring performing a variety of costume changes after rashly rushing out of the house dressed for summer.

However bonkers the weather has been for the last few weeks, if the endless conga line of caravans heading southwards on the M5 tells us anything, it is that normal service will be resumed presently. And lo, as this electronic missive is dispatched into the ether, an extreme weather warning is issued for “Isolated extreme thunder storms bringing the risk of torrential downpours” by the Met Office. Quelle surprise!

Other than being able to pretend that I am appearing on Broadway, the absolute best thing about all of this sunshine is that it is providing us with lots of lovely free electricity. Long suffering readers will be aware that we make all of our own electricity on account of cleverly building our house in the middle of field that is in turn pretty well in the middle of nowhere. We aren’t exactly that remote – a determined boozer might walk to a pub in around half an hour or so – but sufficiently remote to make the procurement of a connection to the National Grid* ruinously expensive.

*Eagle eyed readers will have spotted that the National Grid runs through our field. Apparently tossing an extension cable onto one of the pylon’s wires is not a realistic prospect for obtaining domestic power. Or remaining alive for very long.

When we moved to the land, I was able to convince Lucy to move into a towing caravan. We started out with one of those dinky little batteries that live in a flap on the side of the caravan and one of those Chinese generators that live for the warranty period and then immediately fall to pieces. Over time the accommodation and batteries increased to their current state where we live in what might reasonably be described as a house that is powered by the sort of batteries that usually live in the back of a forklift truck.

At about the same time as we bought the Chinese generator, we bought a Chinese wind turbine to charge the batteries. That performed beautifully once we had taught ourselves basic electronics and replaced most of the junk components that lived inside it. But the absolute prince of renewable power was the solar panels, sat motionless, unlikely to fall over and murder man or beast, they have silently produced lots of lovely electricity for us all over the place.

They run the electric fences, top up the generator and tractor starter batteries, the house batteries and we even have one stuck to the bonnet of the pick up. If you take anything away from reading this, it should be to attach a solar panel to anything to that your wife will let you attach it to to prevent the indignity of flat batteries (no luck with the road going cars yet, but it will logically only be a matter of time). Such was our, that is, my, addiction to buying them that when I discovered a magical place that sells enormous second hand examples from solar farms at keen prices, I could neither retain my excitement, nor resist reaching for my wallet.

Guess what? In the two months or so that we have had the new panels (and the clever box of tricks that makes them work harder), we have used precisely one half litre of fuel to run the house. If you look carefully, you can see the ice sheets reforming on Google Earth. Hang on, maybe I’m to blame for all this cold weather. Perhaps I haven’t thought this through properly…

Right ho, back to the vines. Last time I alluded to the six legged swine that have been assaulting the tender tips of our young shoots. Since then, we have met an Entomologist (nope, I didn’t know either, but the internet is telling me that they do insects) to discuss the problem. Said Entomologist was put onto us by our chemical supplier as I had asked for a non-chemical related solution to our insect troubles*. This was because we had built up a nice collection of beneficial insects around the place – soldier beetles and ladybirds that you can see, and I have since discovered predator mites that you can’t – and we were keen not to knock them over at the same time.

*We had suspected that our problems with the thrips (just about visible) and mites (not at all visible), were a problem of our own making after using insecticides once on the wretched wasps which had likely knocked everything out of balance. You will doubtless to be shocked to hear that wasps absolutely refuse to be clobbered by anything other than the sort of chemical that takes out everything else.

The Entomologist suggested a jaw-droppingly brilliant way of taking out the bad guys and bolstering the goodies in one fell swoop. What you do is buy lots of these sort of waterproof tea bag things that you hang over your trellis wires. Inside the tea bag is bran and two types of mite. One of the mites lives on the bran and the other lives on the mites that live on the bran. When the bran loving mites are all eaten, the intrepid carnivores exit through a strategically placed hole in the tea bag (in retrospect, they aren’t anything like tea bags, this is an appalling analogy, but stick with it) and get stuck into the baby thrips and mites.

Isn’t that just about the cleverest thing that you have ever heard? I certainly think so, so we bought lots and scattered them all over the place. Now I just need to find some sort of bird in a bag option that will eat wasps but not grapes; answers on a postcard please…

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