Front Garden Transformation

For the last few years, I’ve grown wildflowers in the back garden to attract bees and butterflies into the garden. The flowers were really successful the first year I grew them, with the border full of cornflowers and poppies.
Since then I’ve not had quite as much success – despite throwing ten thousand poppy seeds in the garden two years ago! This year the Red Campion from the year before took over, so we did get wild flowers, just not much variety…
(This photo shows the Red Campion before it flowered, taking over the border)
red-campion

About this time last year, I decided to revamp the front garden to make it bee and butterfly friendly. Unfortunately I didn’t take a photo of the border before I started and could only find this photo from 2002(!)
(In the picture I’ve ringed the holly tree [very small at the time!] and an arrow to show the side with the neighbour + the very difficult to remove bushes)
front-garden

The front garden has two borders, the one with the neighbours’ garden which is about 6 meters long and the other which joins at 90 degrees to the other spanning 8 meters.
I started on the border with the neighbour first as the other one had a twelve foot plus holly tree which we were going to use for the Christmas tree in 2014. It took a couple of months to clear the area of all plants and dig it over.
I then stupidly though “why not sift the soil!” hahaha. 2 months… and 1 cubic yard of soil later… I’d nearly lost the will to finish the project.
Having sifted sooo much rubbish out of the soil (plant rubbish and nasty weeds), it became apparent the only way to prevent some of the nasty weeds from spreading from the garden next door was to put in a fence with gravel boards to as deep as I could summon the will to dig.
Luckily the weather was kind to me and despite having measured the fence length incorrectly and having to purchase and dig an extra fence post hole, I got the fence in at the end of October/beginning of November. After that I finished off the process of soil transportation, sieving and began planting the border.
(This is a picture with part of the new fence)
fence

In December we cut down the holly to go in the house (all 11 feet of it!) and what a lovely tree it made.
(This is the holly tree in our sun lounge).
holly

Instead of sifting the soil in the next 8 meters of border, I took the approach this time to dispose of it and fill in the border with compost which was so much easier!
Then came the fun part – ordering plants online to create a new bee and butterfly friendly garden.
(This image shows the new plants when relatively new)

The total cost of the project was around one thousand pounds! But it was worth it.
…more to come in another post
planted

Home Monitoring (home made) – Reborn

I’d previously shared on my blog the home made monitoring application I’d built to aggregate pv, meter and weather data – see: http://blog.v-s-f.co.uk/2014/03/home-monitoring-home-made-overview/.

Over the last few months I re-wrote the app to not only output the data to PVOutput every minute, but store that same data into an HSQLDB on my server. The new code base uses less Java than the previous version and moves a lot of the aggregation into Mule flows. I also took the opportunity to try out Git Hub, so the code is all available online here: https://github.com/vls29/aggregator

So far it’s been running very stable since the start of January and the refactoring enables new data sources to be added very quickly, e.g. Mains Voltage as can be seen below on the graph as a purple line starting above 3000W:

mains-voltage

(link to my system on PVOutput: http://pvoutput.org/intraday.jsp?id=4836&sid=4409)

… but solar panels don’t work in the winter!

I’ve had my solar panels since October 2011 (details about my system can be found on this post) and I’m always telling people how good they are. When I tell people about my solar panels, I get one question – “how much do they generate” and the second is a statement that always makes me want to bang my head against a brick wall – “… but solar panels don’t work in the winter!” Don’t they??

When I first started telling people they should buy solar panels, all I could them was how much electricity they would generate and potentially cut from their bill, but since then I’ve added monitoring to the system which uploads the data to the internet. After the person I’m talking to has used the infamous statement about not producing electricity in the winter, I then proceed to show them the stats from my solar panels.

In the UK, winter solstice is a day between 20th and 23rd December and for more than a week each side of winter solstice, there are less than 8 hours of sunshine in a day. It’s quite literally the worst generation time of the year for solar panels in the UK – especially combined with the weather that you can get at that time of year… But when the sun does shine in the winter, you can get very good solar output days!

This December gone, I checked my system from work during lunch (as I do most days! sad, yes I know…) and noticed the solar panels had heated the hot water. To heat the hot water, there has to be enough energy generated by the solar panels to not only cover the house’ standby usage (350 ish W/h), any additional power being used by family members and also the 1kW/h immersion.

What’s more impressive is that the date was 16th December!
(the red block indicates the immersion is switched on)
16dec15

In fact we even had brief solar water heating on the 19th and 20th but they aren’t as visually impressive…
19dec1420dec14

But what all three of those charts show is that solar panels do work in the winter. They can even generate enough electricity to cause a surplus and power devices around the home!

It is true that the panels do not generate as much electricity during the winter, due to the angle of the sun in the sky and the length of the day, but we still generate in the order of 100kW/h of electricity each December.
last12monthsapr15

And on a perfect day, it’s possible to generate 9kW/h.
6dec14