Gardening 2014

Some notes to help me next year…

This year I actually remembered to get organised for growing things in the garden. I normally forget until about July by which time it’s too late. This year I tried the following

  • Random flower seed packets
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Garlic
  • Strawberries
  • Chillies
  • Tomatoes
  • Sunflowers
  • Onions

I also accidentally grew a great many nasturtium plants which tried taking over the entire garden. Somehow some more have come back.

Of all the plants I tried growing, the chillies and tomatoes are doing the best. The tomatoes didn’t need to be kept in a greenhouse, and the chillies probably don’t either. The beans are doing OK, but the amount of effort required to keep the snails off them and the relatively low yield makes them not worth the effort.

The dog ate all the garlic and made a nest in the strawberry patch so they were a bust. Next year’s strawberries will be better guarded from unexpected pests.

The peas were massacred in a night by snails, as were the sunflowers. The onions did surprisingly well considering I forgot about them and the snails ate all their leaves.

Nothing ate the tomato plant, but I am wary of that thing. It’s all viney and looks slightly sentient, I expect to find the cat tangled in it one morning. Something tried to eat the chilli plant, but then gave up after making a hole in a leaf so maybe next year chillies and tomatoes will be good to plant around the walls where the snails live.

Snails don’t like salt…

There was also some success in growing lavendar and rosemary.

I think next year’s plan will be more tomatoes, more flowers and pots of onions. The strawberries can live over winter in their box but in the spring I’ll thin out some runners and grow them in pots away from the dog.

Used rat bedding makes good growing medium for plants, apart from the uneaten seeds germinating.

Camellia sinensis – the tea bush, Rubiaceae Coffea – the coffee plant

Before Christmas I ordered a Tea & Coffee ‘grow it’ kit from Gift Republic, and now the weather has become less Arctic I’ve planted the seeds.

Since the coffee seeds/beans require a soil temperature of 25-30c to germinate (and up to six months before seedlings appear!) I bought a heated propagator to help them along. My house is quite cold and the seeds would never germinate otherwise. Hopefully by the time seedlings appear it’ll be summer and much warmer.

The tea plant’s seeds are large beanlike objects, bigger than peas and quite hard. ‘Raw’ coffee plant seeds are white and require soaking in warm water for several hours prior to planting. Provided with the seeds were five coir pots and dehydrated compost and some labelling sticks.

I took some other photos, follow this link to see my tea plant and coffee plant photos. Hopefully the seeds will germinate and I’ll be able to provide more progress. Also in the heated propagator are the seeds from some carnivorous plants I bought. These have yet to show any signs of life, I hope they’ve not rotted.

Attempting to repair my FAL Phase 44 amplifier

FAL Phase 44 Amplifier
FAL Phase 44 Amplifier

Sometime last year my old Kenwood hifi amp stopped working due to the speaker cutout relays not working. The speakers would never switch on, making for a fairly useless amplifier.

While my cousin was sorting out his mess before moving to the US he found this old “FAL” brand amplifier. A spot of Googling reveals this was made by a company called “Futuristic Audio Limited” who also seem to make guitar amps. He didn’t want it, I needed an amp, so it came home with me.

Due to its age I noticed quite a lot of noise when trying to adjust the volume so decided today to take it apart and attempt to clean the insides out. I also bought some switch cleaner to spray in the potentiometers.

The insides were very simple. Here is a photo of the main circuitboard which contains nothing but through-hole mounted resistors and capacitors. The most complex electronic components in this are the four transistors bolted to a piece of metal. There are also some large looking capacitors, and an interesting looking network of diodes.

Unfortunately I think cleaning the contacts on the potentiometers and switches might have messed the electrical characteristics of the amp up. Since this isn’t an IC based amp, I have a feeling there’s a fine balance between the components that makes the thing work, and squirting a load of switch cleaner into things has altered this. When I power the amp up, only the left channel works and the volume goes really loud then distorts – all by itself, without me moving the volume knob. I’ll leave it for a few hours to see if the cleaner evaporates off. It’s no great loss if it is broken, the reason I took it apart was because the sound wasn’t correct and the volume kept wandering between left and right speakers, so maybe it’s finally packed in.

Looking at the electronics inside, part of me wonders if it’s repairable.

Ubuntu 9.10 – Tedious Timewaste

I’m attempting to install Ubuntu 9.10 server edition on my server. To say it’s not going smoothly would be as big an understatement as saying “That Hitler bloke, he was a bit naughty, wasn’t he?”. The damn thing just won’t boot up! It gets as far as saying ‘Grub Loading.’ and then gets no further.

At first I thought it might be the weird combination of IDE controllers and disks I have. I have a 1TB SATA drive, plus two PATA drives. The machine is supposed to boot from one of the PATA drives, and use the SATA as a data drive. This used to work. It even used to work with some crazy extra IDE card in the machine. The motherboard has some half-baked combination of IDE, IDE-RAID and SATA, giving me a total of ten possible disks in the machine. Whoever designed this motherboard was going for a bit of everything, the machine even takes DDR and DDR2 RAM.

Thinking that maybe all this crap was confusing things I switched it all off and pulled out every drive except the drive I wanted to boot from and reinstalled Ubuntu on that. GRUB was installed, it all went well… then the machine rebooted and sat there looking like an oversized doorstop.

I know the BIOS can find the correct disk because I see the ‘GRUB Loading.’ message, but then it seems GRUB fails to find the rest of itself and stops working.

My next plan is to install onto a spare SATA disk I have to see what happens. If that fails I’ll install a previous version of Ubuntu to see if they broke something in this version. It seems they’ve switched to something called Grub2, which has lots of new cool features. Is “booting my system” one of these new features?

Ungodly freaks of nature found in my kitchen

If Cthulhu made veg
If Cthulhu made veg

Looking like something that’s crawled straight out of an HP Lovecraft novel, I found these living in the back of my veg basket in the kitchen. Once upon a time they were harmless baby new potatoes, destined to be brutally boiled in water and chewed to pieces.

And then! subject to nothing more than ambient daylight, a quantity of dog hair and cosmic background radiation they sprouted quite naturally mutated beyond all recognition into warped vegetables that Cthulhu itself would be proud of.

It seems the potatoes sprouted, using up all the energy in the main potato and then attempted to root into the air, put out some shoots and generally make a jolly good stab at turning into potato bushes of their very own. Then things went wrong and survival mode took over, causing smaller potatoes to be formed in some crazy sprouting fractal type mess. The result – potatoes for pixies.

Maybe I should leave them in a dish of water to see what happens.

Ginger Beer update

A week ago I started making some Ginger Tea Beer, using an expensive piece of root ginger, some lemons, some yeast and a lot of sugar and water. It’s been sat in a bucket in my office for a week now. Initially the specific gravity was 1.014, and has now gone to 1.006 which shows the yeast has been fermenting the sugar, but not by much. The stuff also tastes quite sweet and is somewhat bland.

More lemons and ginger are required, I’ll have to get some tomorrow from the supermarket. In the mean time as a bit of an experiment and to potentially add some flavour I found a half mouldy tin of black treacle and 1/4kg of brown sugar. The treacle was boiled in a pan to remove any mould (only the tin was moudly, the stuff in it was fine) and I then added the sugar and some water to make a sticky, very nice tasting syrup. Some more yeast was activated and the whole lot tipped into the bucket.

And instantly the bucket produced a load of foam. Yeast respiration is evidently a very quick process!

Specific gravity now 1.014 again and has a pretty nice flavour at the moment. Lacks the ginger spice though. I also can’t taste the tea. I think it needs a really really strong brew of tea and a lot more ginger to add the required bitterness to the flavour.

Experimental brewing is kind of fun though 🙂

Sprinkler Rainbow’s

I keep a little blog called Insane in the Membrane which links to various YouTube videos that show conspiracy nuts and crazy religious people frothing at the mouth. It’s not updated that frequently so you won’t get spammed with information, it’s just videos that’ll amuse you. All videos, no long rambling texts. Kind of like late night TV. Brain off, watch the pretty images and giggle.

Here’s one I just found, all about rainbow’s[sic]

Sprinkler Rainbows

Homebrew experiment: Ginger Tea Beer

This may or may not turn out to be nasty, but I decided it was worth a go. I’ve started production of a batch of Ginger Tea Beer, which is a mix of root ginger, lemons and some strongly brewed tea. I took inspiration from this ginger beer recipe.

There’s a few pictures, so hit the more link to continue reading… Continue reading Homebrew experiment: Ginger Tea Beer

ZX Spectrum +3 with DivIDE CF board and RGB cable

A month or so ago I ordered a DivIDE board from Papaya Labs. The DivIDE board is an ATA interface for the ZX Spectrum, allowing IDE devices such as hard disks, CDROM drives and Compact Flash cards to be plugged into the Spectrum, which, through a special loader built into the board, allows .Z80, .TAP and .SNA images to be loaded into the Spectrum and run. The .Z80 and .SNA images are simply pushed into the Spectrum and it runs them with no need to reboot. The .TAP files are presented to the Spectrum as real tapes, and after typing ‘LOAD “”‘ they load in exactly as a tape would – only in a few seconds, rather than a few minutes.

This is a long post, with lots of information in, more after the break… Press it, you can watch a YouTube video at the end. More photos of the setup available on my photos website.

Continue reading ZX Spectrum +3 with DivIDE CF board and RGB cable