Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Allotment update (it's autumn...ish)

A so it's September and the bulk of allotment based work is over for another year,yes there is still plenty to do over winter,but it's generally not as hectic as spring and summer.

It's been another good year for growing things,the weather has been better than last year,at least in this neck of the woods,we got started early,and it looks like we'll still be getting veg of some kind or other for a while yet if the weather holds.

We've done well in runner beans,so far we've harvested and frozen around 11kg and there's probably a few more to come.

In total we had 38.5kg of spuds,about twice what we had last year so that was good,fingers crossed for a good spud crop next year.

We've had other things,beetroot’s,kale,chard,corn and carrots and onions,although the onions didn't do too well and we still have some leeks and other stuff,like pak choi to come,but it's squashes that have done the best this year.

Lots of squashes as it happens -

This is what our kitchen currently looks like.

Yes we now have loads of squash type things lying about the kitchen waiting to be eaten,we have already eaten quite a few,and some (like the courgettes) have been turned into relish,which is good because there are still more growing.

We've got all sorts,patty pans,courgettes,pumpkins,winter squash,spaghetti squash,and it'll all get eaten eventually,we'll most likely make more relish,and the pumpkins will do for Halloween carving (not all of them mind) and then they'll be puréed and frozen,this will be the first year we've had to use the small chest freezer to store stuff as the one in the kitchen is now full (mostly with beans it has to be said) once we've finished we should have over 20kg (nearer 30kg) of pumpkin purée,good job we like soups and pumpkin pie.

I was sure I was going to get the last haul home in one go,my wheel barrow was a little full by the time I'd finished.

We're going to need a bigger barrow - 

Luckily we don't live too far away from the plot,it was a bit heavy.

Unpacked and ready for washing - 

Some good Halloween pumpkins in this lot.

Some of the pumpkins were still a bit green in this picture,I picked them mainly because the plants had started to die off,but since they've been on the kitchen window sill the skins have hardened up and they are more or less a nice orange colour,squashes will keep for some time once picked,just keep them in a cool dry place,we kept ours on the kitchen window sill last year as well,they were still good well into February,four or five months after being picked,pumpkins tend to go orange in the sun we've found,which is why we put the greener ones on the window sill.

Pak choi seem to be doing okay - 

Slugs don't seem that keen on them for some reason.

Corn should be ready to pick when we next visit - 

Coming along nicely.

I'm pleased with the corn,this year we've used only saved seeds and to be honest it seems to have done better than the shop bought seeds we've used in the past,I don't know if this is down to the weather or what,but we've got a much better yield,at least 40 cobs.

Stuff that needs doing before spring,well there's a few things we need to do,firstly moving the strawberry bed to the top of the plot,it's become a bit overgrown and needs dealing with.

Yes that really is a strawberry bed - 

There's some in there somewhere.

I've already started on raising the boundary between the two plot halves,but I have also got to sort out some wood for an asparagus bed which will then have the asparagus plants I've been growing at home put into it,although it won't be until the year after next before they can be harvested,the down side of growing asparagus from seed I guess.

I've also got to sort out some kind of edging for the path,then I can mulch it with the shredded garden waste I've got in bags at home,it's from our privet hedges and wood shavings from my wood working,it works well on the path,I just need to contain it a bit better,hence the edging.

Apart from harvesting the last few squashes and the other things,leeks,corn etc and keeping the weeds under control that's about it from the plot this year,I'm already starting to think about next year,luckily I've got plenty of wood related projects to keep me busy over winter.

Here's the plot last time we saw it -

Runner bean,the plant that keeps on giving...and giving.

Onwards to next year! and may all your growing exploits be fruitful.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Mini onager...

I have been meaning to write a post about the mini onager / catapults I made for some time,I actually made the first one last year as an experiment to see if I could make a small scale siege weapon,that would be a little easier to make than the others we've made.

There are some links to the other siege type weapons we've made at the bottom of this post and there's a short video of me making one of these (I was messing about with time lapse videos) and firing it in the garden as well.

Here are the finished onagers (one for each of the kids) -

Simple and cheap to make.

These are powered by a piece of slingshot elastic,but you could use large rubber bands,bungee cord or something like shock cord or indeed anything that's stretchy.

Construction is easy,it's basically a rectangle shaped frame with a few bits added for support and because these don't use the torsion bundle system like the larger onager we built,the throwing arm uses a pivot and a couple of bits of wood either side that act as guides,other wise the throwing arm would flap about all over the place,and even though these are small they can still give you a bit of a nip if you get your fingers in the wrong place.

Here's a picture with some of the parts marked - 

Click on the picture for a larger view.

These can be built in a similar way to the larger onager,but because of the pivot point I'd recommend making the frame first so that you can work out where you want the pivot point,and then drill it out before you make the other parts.

Quick diagram of the basic frame (sizes just for reference) -

There's no reason these can't be made much larger.

Once you've worked out how big the frame work will be and marked where you want the pivot to go you can take the 2 longest sides and drill straight through them both,this should mean the holes for the pivot will line up,I used a bit of 8mm dowel for the throwing arm to pivot on,but anything straight and round will do.

Below is a picture showing how the throwing arm pivots on the dowel - 

Simple but effective.

The guides either side of the throwing arm serve to keep it straight and they also help make sure it fires smoothly and doesn't twist,these aren't really needed but they do help keep everything in line when firing and they do seem to help with the accuracy of the onager.

To work out where to put the stop bar and other parts what I did with this and the larger onager is to work out the point at which the throwing arm is upright and at around 90 degrees to the frame work,from there you can mark the frame and work out where to put the stop bar etc,you'll also need to work out how long you want your throwing arm,I made mine about 20cm (8 inches) and from that I worked out the height at which to put the stop bar,which in my case is at about halfway up the throwing arm.

To stop the elastic from getting caught up and to keep it in line when it's loaded I've used some small eye hooks,this also gave me a point I can tie the elastic to,I also used an eye hook on the throwing arm to stop the elastic slipping down the arm when it's loaded.

Loaded - 

Ready for action.

Closer picture - 

There are other ways I could have done this,but this works.

The trigger is the same as the one I made for the larger onager,it basically uses 3 eye hooks and a pin and a length of string,again this one of a few ways a trigger could be made, but this works and it's simple to use.

What you use as a holder at the end of the throwing arm for your ammunition is what ever works I guess,you could use a sling type holder,like I've done with the larger onager,or a cup like I have used with the smaller onagers,I just used what I had lying about in my shed from various wood turning experiments,half the fun of making things like this is to experiment and see what works and what doesn't

The trigger (you can also see the eye hook that stops the elastic from slipping down the throwing arm) - 

Doesn't really need to be more complicated than this.

Video of it being assembled and fired - 

And that's about it really,these aren't super powerful,although it will depend on what you use as a power source,be it bungee cord or slingshot elastic,you can use variety of things as ammunition,I used a small ball of baking foil in the video,but almost anything will do,and I've since discovered that with a tweak to the elastic these are pretty good water balloon launchers.

Links to other siege type weapons we've made - 

How to make an onager (opens in new window)

How to make a trebuchet (opens in new window)

Hand held ballista (opens in new window)

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Simple wooden picture frames...

As you may (or may not) know Game of Thrones has finished for another year,and while I'm waiting for the next series I decided to make a frame for my map of Westeros,which I got in the box set of books that my wife bought me for christmas (yes I've read the books as well) it's not hard to do,and I'm pleased with the end result.

Here's it is,in it's new place in the front room -

Winter is coming.

It was easy to make,although I did use a router,but there are other ways of doing this,the wood cost no more than about £2 the most expensive part of this was the clip frame I bought,which cost £3.50 I don't know how much a piece of glass would have cost,but the clip frame was cheap enough, I added some squares of wood to each corner with a Dire wolf burned into them for a bit of added interest.

I didn't take pictures while I was making this,but to give you a rough idea of how it's done I made a frame for a smaller clip frame,and there's no reason why you can't make picture frames for small photo's in the same way,and it's not just frames for pictures either.

Here's a clip frame - 

Nothing special,just a clip frame.

To make the wooden frame all I've done is to get some tile batten and using a router I've made a channel down the middle of the wood about 5mm in depth and wide enough to fit the glass and the board backing of the clip frame into.

Like so - 

A bit tricky to do,but a few clamps help.

There are a couple of ways you can go from here,you can have mitred corners (angled) or you can just butt the bits of wood up against each other.

If you go for mitred corners then what I did was mark the back of the clip frame,to help get the wooden parts of the frame in the right place,otherwise the mitres will have gaps in them.

Like so - 

It helps to have a guide.
You can see that I've marked out each corner at 45 degrees,and I've also marked down 5mm (ish) along each side and from these marks I got the measurements for the bits of wood I needed to cut.

To cut the bits of wood I used a mitre saw,these are great for small jobs like this,they can cut a variety of angles and are easy to use,and cheap to buy.

My mitre saw - 

It's served me well,could do with a new blade.

Here's one piece cut,you can see it almost lines up with my marks -

Close enough.

To fix the pieces together you can use screws,or glue and clamps,either way works,but if you use screws you'll be able to change the picture,if however you go for glue then that's it you won't be able to get things apart without damaging things,as I'm not bothered about changing the picture I went for glue on the map frame.

Screwing together - 

It's easy to fill the holes,a bit of dowel will do.

Gluing together with clamps -

Don't worry I haven't glued this one together without a picture.

Using clamps like these can be a bit tricky when it comes to getting things lined up,you can buy a special frame clamp that will make life easier or you can make one,there are various how to's online.

Here's the back of the clip frame complete with the wooden framing - 

You get the idea?

If you don't have a router there is a little cheat, find some tongue and groove,you should be able to use the groove side to fit the clip frame into,you'll obviously need to cut the wood to size,but it does work.

Here's the glass from a clip frame in a piece of match board - 

Perfect fit.

In fact this is how I made the front of my wife's wedding anniversary present - 

Joins could have been neater.

If you don't fancy trying mitred corners you can just butt the bits of wood up against each other,in some cases this maybe more appealing,but I guess it depends on your tastes.

Easy way of doing things - 

More of a rustic feel,I may do this on the next one I make.

It's not just picture frames you can use this for,I made a cupboard for our keys in a similar way,only instead of glass I used a piece of thin plywood that I cut a heart shape into,and I also made a box for my son to keep some of his fossils in,kind of like a display case,I used the glass from another clip frame for this as well,I think they turned out well and they are cheap and easy to make.

The key cupboard - 

I like it,so does my wife,everyone’s a winner

The fossil display case - 

Keeps the fossils safe and shows them off.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Allotment update (first harvest of 2014)

After the hard work keeping the weeds at bay comes the good bit,harvesting the stuff you've grown,it's then you discover that the aches and pains from the digging,weeding and everything else have all been worth it.

We dug our first lot of spuds up in June (this post is a bit late) and despite the plants looking a bit sorry for themselves we actually got a good haul of new spuds,12kg in fact,which is 3kg more than last year.

Spuds -

Not bad,should last a while.

I've already filled the hole where the spuds were with this years sweetcorn,and it won't be long before some of the other stuff can be dug up,like the carrots and possibly some of the onions.

Sweetcorn planted - 

More plants than last year.

Fingers crossed we'll get a crop of corn,these plants are all grown from seeds we saved from last years crop,kind of experimental maybe,but it'll interesting to see what happens.

We've also picked the broad beans and although we didn't get quite as much as last year this is because we've picked the beans a bit earlier while they are still smallish,even so we've still got over 2kg of broad beans,which have now been blanched and put in the freezer (by my lovely wife) for the winter,they are very good in stews.

Shelled broad beans ready for blanching -

Very tasty,and good for you.

I enlisted the help of some bean picking elves to help with harvesting -

Get yourself some picking elves,they come in handy.

The pea harvest was a bit of a non starter really, we got enough for a meal,but we would have had much more if it wasn't for the rodents,yes we've had a bit of a rodent problem on the site this year,we're not the only ones having issues with the furry buggers,and it has to be said some people aren't helping by giving the rats and mice places to hide,but enough about that.

Some of the squash plants are starting to show signs of fruits,hopefully the rodents won't get too them,we'll have to make sure they don't.

Baby squashes,they'll soon get big (if they don't get eaten) - 

I'm hoping for some large pumpkins this year.

And here's everything we got on the kitchen table,there's some rhubarb and a couple of beetroot's,but we've got more on the way,and even though we've got slightly less of some things we had extra spuds,and I guess that in years gone by this is something farmers and gardeners of old would have had to adapt to.

The harvest so far - 

Can't beat home grown veggies.

There's plenty more going on at the plot,and the council have seen fit to change the rules again so there's that to get to grips with as well,it's all good fun.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Wooden casters / wheels...

A while ago I made a rotating table for my bench sander (which you can read about here) it's come in very handy,however recently I've had need for another rotating platform but I didn't have any little wheels,well not enough anyway,so I figured how hard could it be to make some?

It turns out it's not that hard at all,and they work just as well as the ones I bought last time round.

Here's a bought wheel / caster -

Cheap enough,but I couldn't be bothered to go out and get more.

And here's what I made - 

Almost the same.

You can see how they are made,basically each wheel has two triangle shaped sides,then there's a small dowel that runs through the whole thing and works like an axle,then there's the wheel,this I made using a small diameter hole saw.

Here's a more detailed view of the casters - 

Simple,but effective.

And that's about it,once I had made four of these little casters I then constructed the rotating table in exactly the same way as I did for my bench sander (see link at the start of this post) there are a couple of things to consider with these wooden casters,firstly they aren't quite as strong as the plastic ones and secondly because they aren't as strong they will wear out quickly and may break,although they won't really be getting that much of a work out the way I'm using them.

Here they are on the small rotating table I made them for - 

There's a fair gap,makes things a little less stable but not too bad.

Although these work well enough for what I want I'm not that happy with the gap there is between to two bits of wood,and about five minutes after I'd made this little platform I realised I could have made this in a better way,which is usually the case,I often look at things I've made and think why did you do it like that when this way would have been better?

I figured that instead of making these little casters I could just incorporate the wheels into one of the bits of wood,as an example in the picture above I could have fixed the wheels into the piece of wood the motor is fixed to,this would then reduce the height of the whole thing,in this case by nearly an inch.

Here's a quick drawing of what I'm getting at - 

Click on the picture for a larger view.

To fit the wheels into the wood isn't difficult,and as far as I can tell is no more work than making the casters,I made one quickly to show how you can make something similar.

Here it is - 

Works just as well.

To make it I took a scrap bit of plywood and made it square,then I marked a circle onto it,by drawing diagonal lines to find the centre,then I measured and marked lines at halfway both vertical and horizontal, then on the halfway marks I measured out a rectangle.

Like so - 

Onto drilling and cutting.

The rectangles will be where the wheels go,these obviously need to be cut out,so I started by drilling holes in each rectangle to make things easier,then I cut them out.

Like so - 

I wasn't being too careful,as you can tell.

Next I marked out where I was going to drill holes for the axles to go,I used vertical and horizontal marks I'd made as guides,then I made a small hole to locate the drill bit into,you want to be as close to dead centre as is possible,otherwise the wheels will end up at slightly different heights.

Like so - 

Add caption

I used a drill bit about the same size as the dowel I used to make the axles (8mm) and using my post drill I drilled out the holes,if you make something like this then a post drill is handy as you want to get the holes as straight as possible,otherwise the wheels will sit at odd angles and not spin very well.

Drilling - 

A bit off from where I wanted,but it should be okay.

The wheels I made the same way as with the casters,and as it turns out the drill bit on the hole saw was also 8mm so it worked out well for fitting the dowel through the wheels.

Onto assembly - 

Almost done.

To fit it all together I just pushed a bit of dowel through the hole in the wooden plate,then through the wheel and finally into the last hole,then I just cut the dowel off,to make sure the dowel doesn't work it's way out I drilled a small hole through the wooden plate and into the dowel,then I used a small piece of wood as a peg.

Hole for the peg - 

I just tapped a small peg into this hole.

Here's a view of the edge of it,you can see where the dowel goes - 

All done.

And that's that,what it is I guess is a very simple wooden bearing,but it's easy to make and as the next picture shows it would reduce the height quite a lot.

Height difference is about half an inch or so - 

I may have to adapt this.

I plan on making some more of these wooden bearings,no idea what I'll use them for,but it was fun making them,although I do have some ideas for wind powered models for the garden and these may come in handy for that.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Allotment update...

It's been almost two months since the last allotment update and a fair bit has been going on,and not just at the plot either,things are progressing at home.

This year we seem to be ahead by about a week or so,mainly due to the mild winter,which has allowed us to get things planted a bit earlier and the weather for the most part hasn't been too bad,bit more sun might be in order though.

This was the plot when I got there the other day -

Very green.

Not all of it is weeds,I hadn't done anything to the plot since the last visit and expected a bit of weeding,which didn't take long. It's been easier to keep on top of things as the years go by,what took a few hours two years ago now only takes an hour and as long as we keep on top of things it'll remain easy to deal with.

My main focus this visit was the top section of the plot as I had plans to plant our squash plants,so I had to do a bit of clearing first.

The top section before clearing - 

Spuds are doing well.

 Top section after clearing - 

Looks better now.

It won't be long before one lot of the spuds gets dug up,the rest will stay in the ground for a while yet,once the one lot of spuds are harvested I will plant out our corn plants and anything else we happen to have.

Squash plants in - 

I ran out of room and had to plant some elsewhere.

More squash plants - 

I crammed them in where I could.

Once that was done I also decided to sort out the entrance to the plot,as it turns out the gate I made a while ago has been damaged,so I'll have to fix that on the next visit,but I did get a slab put in to make more of a step which should help the gate open and close better.

Slab in place,just need to fix the gate - 

Not perfect,but the gate opens better now.

Here's the plot once I'd finished - 

All done for now.

And that was it for the plot,next time I visit it'll be more weeding and most likely harvesting our first lot of spuds,and any thing else that happens to be ready,we've got things like beetroot and spinach on the go.

The things we grow at home are doing well,the corn plants are looking good,they'll go into the plot once the spuds are harvested,the asparagus plants we've grown from seeds are growing well,although it'll be a while before they are ready for harvesting.

Corn plants - 

Nearly ready for planting.
Baby asparagus plants - 

They look like ferns at the moment.

The tomato plants have survived the rain we've had (it's been very wet) 

They seem to be okay,they need some sun now.

Our plum tree is covered in plums this year - 

I've had to prop some branches up because of the weight of plums.

By all accounts it will be a good year for fruit,we've apples and pears growing along with loads of logan berries,currants and raspberries,both in the garden and on the raspberry plants we have at the allotment,and we should also get a good crop of grapes from the grape vine I have in the greenhouse,this year it has the most bunches it's ever had.

Baby grapes - 

One of many bunches growing.

And last but not least this year we're trying to see if we can grow some mini pumpkins vertically,which should be fun,and we've also got cucumbers and lemon cucumbers growing,along with some spaghetti squashes,so fingers crossed it will be a good year for crops.

Here's our cucumbers and spaghetti squashes in tubs near our back door - 

Cucumbers grew well here last year.

Stay tuned for the next update,and thanks for reading.