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Wales, United Kingdom
Documenting one couple's attempts to live a more self-sufficient life.

Monday 14 September 2015

A few updates

I'm not doing very well with regular blog posts this year, so here's a bit of a catch up on some things I've left hanging.

Solar panels
The big project. When I last wrote about these, I was waiting for sunshine to see how they'd do.

Well, they work, but they don't put a huge amount of heat into the tank. I found this very demoralising at first, but Ian pointed out that it takes quite a few hours to put a significant amount of heat into that tank with fire, so I should feel too bad about modest performance from a couple of old radiators. There are one or two more things I could do that might improve performance. In the meantime, we've had warm-ish water out of the taps this summer, instead of cold, in spite of weather that barely qualifies for the name, summer.

It turned out that we really do want a different temperature in the kitchen than the shower, so we were forever turning the valve up or down, and trying to remember where we'd left it. Also, the temperature at the shower head wasn't entirely determined by the valve in the cupboard across the hallway; whether or not the underfloor heating was on made quite a big difference to how much heat was lost between the two. Added to that, the valve started to get sticky. I think maybe these valves shouldn't be treated this way. We needed an upgrade. One new thermostatic mixer valve was purchased, plus a connector or two, and plumbed in.

We now have one temperature for the shower and a slightly higher temperature for the hot taps. Perfect.

Wine yeast
At about three months old, the blackberry wine made with bread yeast was still pretty sweet, but pleasant and quite drinkable. That made with wine yeast, in contrast, was horrible. It was really rough, exactly like every home-brewed gutrot you've ever tipped into a potted plant when your enthusiastic home-brewing friend isn't looking.

Well, they look pretty similar
Now, at one year old, the bread yeast wine is no longer sweet at all, though still quite fizzy (correctable with a vacuum pump), and has quite a decent flavour. The wine yeast wine is surprisingly a little sweeter. It has mellowed and completely lost the rough edge, and has a more complex flavour than the bread yeast wine. In conclusion, then, both are fine for older wines, though wine yeast is better, but bread yeast is far superior for a very young wine, if you're happy to drink it fairly sweet. Before you decide that bread yeast is all you need, though, I also used it for my other wines. The dandelion wine was very good, but the oak leaf, beech leaf, and blackcurrant wines are still fermenting now, and still very sweet. It seems that bread yeast doesn't stand up well to tannin.

My too-sweet beech leaf wine remains resolutely sweet. I chuck in a bit of yeast or some more vinegar from time to time, but nothing doing. I think I may have discovered the solution to the antibiotic time-bomb, as this stuff kills everything I throw at it. It's a new multi-purpose sterilising solution.

Pickled mushrooms
These are very nice.

Perhaps a little stronger on the vinegar than I'd ideally like, but that has to be good for storage. It feels odd to be eating preserved mushrooms right in the middle of mushroom season, but I had to try a few, and yep, they're good.

Willow bench
Is mostly still alive. Many of the thinnest pieces died, but most of the thicker, more structural pieces have survived, and are putting out thin shoots of their own to replace the ones that died.

It's still not strong enough to sit on, but I'm sure it will be in time.

In our first February here, when I was carrying out a serious assault on the garden to get it ready for my first year of planting, I moved some crocosmia from a flower bed to a steep bit of hillside. It was hard work. While not yet the dazzling display of colour that I have seen from these plants, they're getting established nicely and give a good show of orange flowers scattered across the hillside.

A smattering of crocosmia
In the background you just about be able to see the willow fence alongside the terrace. That's doing quite well, with almost no losses, and may yet provide valuable support if the terrace does start to break down.