Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Paths and Pumpkins

It's been another day's hard work, getting paths cleared and gravel put down. We had a lighter moment to start with, putting Sir Maurice the Black, who we acquired at Hampton Court, into position in the mulberry bed. (The mulberry, of course, is a Morus nigra.)

Sir Maurice the Black in the mulberry bed (© Ian 2017)

After that, I finished tidying up the path down the games lawn, and put suitable edging to keep the gravel in place down each side, before tipping a few barrows of gravel on to it.

Path along the games lawn (© Ian 2017)

Meanwhile, Liz was hard at work clearing paths in the colour wheel, and so I was also able to finish two paths there (the short one top left in the photo below, but not visible; and this one). As we work along the bottom edge of the colour wheel, I'm going to lay flat stones next to the edging (the mini fence made from split chestnut), so that I can mow right up to it. This will also make the transition from lawn to gravel, which you can see here.

Long path in the colour wheel (© Ian 2017)

After a long day outside, we carved our pumpkins and retired to the sofa.

Carved pumpkins (© Ian 2017)

Monday, 30 October 2017

Dolls' House

While we were visiting Jenny and Philip, Jenny wanted a hand decorating a dolls house she'd found on Freecycle. It's a scale model of the maker's house, and is really intricate as a result, but she wanted to cover the walls to make it look like it was stone and slate, rather than remaining ply.

As it arrived (© Ian 2017)

So many rooflines... (© Ian 2017)

Underway...(© Ian 2017)

Mostly finished! (© Ian 2017)

We didn't quite get there before we needed to leave, but we made a good start.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Hampton Court

We're in Herefordshire for a few days, visiting Liz's parents. Today we went round Hampton Court, which isn't Hampton Court Palace: the latter took its name from the former, which is a country estate with gardens and parks. The gardens are quite something, with a big walled kitchen garden, water gardens, a sunken garden with waterfall, yew maze with central tower, and parkland.

The water gardens (© Ian 2017)

The water gardens (© Ian 2017)

The sunken garden (© Ian 2017)

The yew maze (© Ian 2017)

Thursday, 26 October 2017


More gravel, today! The steps down from near the greenhouse are done, and Liz has cleared (almost) the long path from them along the edge of the lawn, ready for me to put gravel down on it. The steps needed a bit of work; I've built small retaining walls on both sides, to keep the gravel from going into the beds (and vice versa) which weren't necessary with chippings. But they look good, and an unexpected consequence is a new small bed on the outside of the lower step, which will—someday—get planted up.

Greenhouse steps re-built and gravelled (© Ian 2017)

Wednesday, 25 October 2017


Gravel is heavy. Not a surprise, but a bit of a pain when one has a ten ton heap of it to move. Anyway, we've got it down onto most of the herb garden, with Liz clearing the path ahead of me, and me shifting the gravel.

Gravel path laid through herb garden (© Ian 2017)

Tuesday, 24 October 2017


We've spent today getting the downstairs bathroom to the verge of finished. The last dozen tiles are cut and fixed; Liz has grouted; I've cut and fitted the wooden trim (on top of the tiles, and around the edge of the cabinet tops); we've hung the mirrored cabinet; and I made a filler panel to fill the gap next to the cabinets, and a window board (machined out of spare floor t&g).

It's all looking rather good.

New downstairs bathroom (© Ian 2017)

Monday, 23 October 2017


We've been away for a few days with David and Ann, which has been very relaxing. The usual activities: games, coffee, knitting, films. Lovely.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017


This afternoon we've done most of the tiling needed in the downstairs bathroom, having also put in the skirting boards. There are about another dozen tiles needed, but they're all cut ones, and we didn't really have the energy to embark on a round of measuring, cutting, and fixing at the end of it all, so it'll wait. They are, however, looking good, and I reckon the room is only one more day's work from being finished.

Bathroom tiling mostly complete (both &copy Ian 2017)

Monday, 16 October 2017

Paths and Pressing

We had a rather leisurely morning yesterday, after a long day on Saturday. I spent the morning playing with some IT (getting the FreeSat box working on the LAN, and getting it to see the network storage, which means I can store recorded television on the rather larger NAS drives, which is nice). That done, we did some work clearing the weedy and composted chippings from the patio outside the dining room and the path leading through the herb garden from there. We're removing the chippings entirely, and replacing them with aggregate. The chippings are nice...but decompose, sooner or later, get full of weeds and grass, and need replacing. The aggregate, though about three times the price in the first place, shouldn't need nearly so much work or further expense. Thus, the paths are being upgraded. However, that does entail removing the mess from 150m2 of path, and barrowing in about 17 tonnes of gravel.

It'll look good when it's done.

Today, we started by hooking up a mini dishwasher we have been kindly loaned by Ann and David. We're using it for cleaning and sterilizing jars and bottles in the preservatory, so it's connected to a cold water feed in there. At the moment the waste discharge is a little agricultural (into a bucket), but I'll make something a little slicker before too long (he says). It was immediately used to clean a dozen swing-top bottles, while we pressed  this year's apple harvest. The electric scratter, which debuted last year, once again proved its worth. Not an enormous crop, but there you go.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Road Trip

It's been a really quite varied weekend, with different things each day; it's been rather fun.

Today, we went to the Thorne sale at their Lincolnshire site. We went last year, with the benefit of a van, because we had a large order of equipment to collect. This year, our order was rather smaller, because we aren't expanding as much in the coming 12 months (well, probably), so we only took the car. Still, we managed to fill it really well.

Car full of beehives (© Ian 2017)

There's parts for another five Q-type beehives in there. These are our modification of normal BS National beehives, and allow two brood boxes to be stacked on top of one another, each one split horizontally. That resembles a Q-type house, which is a cluster of four homes, each being a corner-quarter of a square-ish building (we nearly bought one, years and years ago). Anyway: they let us split smaller colonies of bees off main beehives, and 'grow them on' in the smaller box until they're big enough, but it takes less resources (in hive materials), and they stay warmer (as they share a volume), which I reckon makes life easier for them. However, it's designed so that each colony's entrance is the only one on that side of the hive (ie, one is north, one south, etc), which reduces the confusion for the bees, and the number that go home to the wrong place.

We're planning more of these, so the parts for these were the core of the order, along with lots of frames for the bees to build comb in. I also had a few bits and pieces, and then we found a number of bargains on the day. This included some Q-type parts I was planning to order later, but were nicely reduced (they need some minor repairs), and some 'mating' hives. These, you add a small number of adult bees, and a newly emerged queen. She gets looked after while she finishes maturing (after she pupates for eight days, for about four days), and then flies out to mate with (hopefully) a dozen or so drones from the surrounding area (though she has to wait if the weather's poor). After another few days, she starts to lay eggs. That's when you can tell she's 'ready', and can either move her to head up a full or part sized colony, or&emdash;if so inclined—sell her. After that, you can add another newly-emerged queen to the mating hive, and the cycle starts again. We had a number of problems with our queens this year, and so having a plan for a succession of new queens in reserve next year seems sensible.

Mini mating hive (© Ian 2017)

Tuesday, 10 October 2017


It's mostly been a weekend of construction, in one way or another. On Saturday we continued work on the beehive insulation: painting the EPS with masonry paint (to protect it from slugs and UV degradation; it is, of course, waterproof intrinsically), and preparing the parts to attach them to each hive.

On Sunday, while Liz did some work on the downstairs bathroom (the paint we used appears to have created a rather unpleasant smell, so we're washing the walls down, and repainting) and other bits in the house, I built a storage rack on the hillside. It's for storing spare beehive components, especially the boxes in which they produce honey, because they aren't needed for six months of the year, and there will, in time, be the best part of a hundred of them. I've built the storage as an extension of the original platform we made, by driving three new support posts about 1.4m downhill from the lower edge of that. I've then thrown up wooden beams from the old posts to the new, and along each set of three, before adding extra joists and beams to create a set of square sites, each 460mm across. That's the footprint of all the beehive boxes for the design we use, so anything (almost) can be stacked on any one of the fifteen spaces, up to about a metre high.

Construction of storage rack (all © Ian 2017)

All of that done, yesterday we were able to wrap the bees in their insulated jackets (well, the hives, not the individual bees), which means that, between that and their fondant feed, the bees are pretty much settled for the winter. I shall keep visiting them every week or two, to make sure they don't go hungry.

Today, though, has been a mammoth list of work. We've got the plasterboard and spare cabinet boards out of the preservatory, ready to go upstairs (for the last bits of work, long overdue, in the guest suites). To further clear the room, the mahogany shelves are going to Jenny and Philip (staged from the dining room), and the spare bathroom cabinets are also in there while we decide their fate. All the spare insulation board is now cut into manageable sizes, and is in the loft (from which I even remembered to extract the tile cutter, ready for use in the bathroom!). The smaller windows (the new ones) have almost been tidied up with reveals and caulk—they just need false fronts to the windowboards, which will happen when I set up the router for a session. I popped out to collect the car from the garage on a bike, and get a haircut, while Liz cleaned the preservatory. Then we made a set of drawer fronts for the beehive's monitoring trays, and I installed these and took some spare hive boxes up to the newstorage rack. Lastly, we've set up the dining table we received from my parents in the middle of the newly cleaned room, which is now in a fit state to press apples and extract honey.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Hive Cosies

It's the time of year when the bees start to retreat into their hive, ready for winter, which they'll spend clustered together, gradually eating their stored honey to keep warm. To help them with this, we've been taking a few steps. Yesterday morning, we went to a wholesaler, to collect 400kg of bakers fondant, which is essentially 88% sugar, with some glucose and water. As such, it's a good food source for the bees, partly because it's a similar sugar:water ratio to honey, so they don't have as much processing to do to it to get it ready to store. We've put a 12.5kg block of this in the top of each hive, which, over the next few weeks, the bees will store in their honeycomb. The fondant is an absolute pain to slice up to fit; in the end, my preferred solution is a spade, and my full weight.

Apart from that, we've also been slicing expanded polystyrene sheets into smaller pieces, to form four-piece 'wraps' that will go around the sides of each beehive. The hive roofs already have PU foam insulation in them, so between that and these external wraps, the hives will be a bit warmer. That reduces the amount of honey/stores that the colony needs to survive the winter. It also has the effect of dissuading woodpeckers from attacking the hive—which they otherwise correctly identify as a wooden box containing highly nutritious (proteinaceous) insects. Rather valued insects.

The other thing of note was delivery of ten tonnes of gravel, which will be going down on paths at some point.

Sunday, 1 October 2017


We've had a lovely weekend with David and Ann in Rothwell, where we congregated at roughly the midpoint between our homes, to avoid having too much travel for any of us. It's been very relaxed, with plenty of coffee, games, and cake.

The church in Rothwell is fascinating, partly as it was pretty much taken apart and rebuilt from the same material, which means you get a wonderful mashup of styles (perpendicular gothic embellishments on clearly Norman arches, and the like), which are essentially impossible to coherently analyse without knowing that it's been extensively rebuilt.

Holy Trinity, Rothwell (both © Ian 2017)

On the way home, we called in at the Triangular Lodge, which I saw a programme on in 2010, and which is worth a visit. It's purportedly a warrener's lodge, but is really a folly, as it's far larger and more ornate than a rabbit keeper would warrant. In reality, it's testament to the staunch Catholicism of the builder, Sir Thomas Tresham, and is completely packed with symbolism and meaning, none more clear than the Trinity-referencing basic elements of the building (three sided, with three gables on each face, and trefoil windows). However, there's far, far more to it, and I won't even try to cover it all here.

Exterior of the Triangular Lodge, Rothwell (© Ian 2017)

Panorama of the second floor of the lodge (© Ian 2017)

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Denbigh Castle

A couple of busy weekend days talking with the bees, as it's coming to the end of the season, and things need to be wrapped up (figuratively at the moment, and literally in the near future) for them to be set for the winter.

Yesterday, though, we made two trips to the tip, clearing out rubbish from the preservatory and the debris from the bathroom re-fit, and also picked all the apples from the old trees in the orchard. They're only really fit for juicing, which we'll need to get to as soon as we can.

Today was a bit different; we travelled over to Wales to visit Denbigh Castle.

The triple-towered gatehouse, which is considered a Wonder of Wales (© Ian 2017)

The inner bailey (© Ian 2017)

A rare example of a medieval basin (© Ian 2017)

The best example of a postern gate I've seen: defended by towers, a pair of drawbridges, and a long enfilladed approach, but allowing access directly to hunting trails  (© Ian 2017)

Looking up from the Goblin Hole, a deep well brought into the defense of the castle by the outer wall. This is 54 steps below the wall walk level  (© Ian 2017)

Looking down towards the Goblin Hole from where the walls meet the Goblin Tower (© Ian 2017)

Out from the walls at the salient (© Ian 2017)

Tuesday, 19 September 2017


Plenty of progress on the downstairs bathroom this weekend! The new floor has gone down (the left over oak from the kitchen; I knew I had hung on to the last two packs for seven years for a reason), and looks really good. It should also be warm, as it's over a foil-based underfloor insulation layer. We then spent a day sorting out plumbing, and installed the units (basin unit, cupboard, and toilet concealed cistern), which all went relatively smoothly, and with only a short patch of frustration caused by a missing O-ring in a cistern fitting I hadn't noticed. That replaced, everything appears to be leak-free.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Plaster and Windows

The downstairs bathroom renovation is going really well. On Saturday afternoon, while Liz plastered the back wall of the preservatory, I took the remaining tiles off the floor and walls. That meant that Liz could replaster (Sunday and Monday), and we could put SFUF floor insulation down, ready to lay the floor next weekend. In between, we checked the beehives, and on Monday went on a trip to St Helen's to collect the new double glazed uPVC windows for the workshop. Which are now fitted!

Last few floor tiles to go (© Ian 2017)

Old single glazed windows. Turns out they weren't secured in the aperture other than by mortar...which had mostly deteriorated (© Ian 2017)

New windows...some expanding foam tidying may ensue (© Ian 2017)

Replastered, window reveals fitted, and floor insulation down (© Ian 2017)

Tuesday, 5 September 2017


Saturday was mostly spent peering inside beehives, and counting bees (answer: lots, broadly). They're definitely slowing down, now, for the end of the season. To help prepare the hives for that, I've prototyped a beehive cosy, which, once tested and refined, I'll be making a set of, to help keep them warm, and also protect the hives from woodpeckers (who correctly a wooden structure containing insects that are highly nutritious, and sometimes attempt to break and enter).

We managed, also, to finish painting the window frames, which is a job we came to a bit late, this year (as in, in August), but went really quickly. We've even managed to get a couple of coats on the new windows in the gable end of the preservatory, and everything's looking much smarter. However, we're struggling to get the bike shelter roof/lid painted—the primer isn't priming very effectively. Further effort will be applied.

In the garden, the lawn's been mown, which sets of the late-summer garden much better, and we pruned the apple walk's trees. There are several, now, that have reached the apex, which is great, and the structure is really obvious now. There are even a few dozen apples to pick.

Today, we got on to a job that's long been awaited, and started work re-fitting our downstairs toilet. First out were the green/brown suite (vintage 1978), which have been much disliked by us for each of the eight years we've been here. Astonishing, therefore, that it's taken us so long to get to doing this room. (In truth, it's been too useful as a room with a sink for mixing plaster and washing paint brushes: now that those jobs are mostly done seems time for the re-fit.)

The 1978 suite (© Ian 2017)

The suite came out remarkably easily, actually—I was expecting a bit of a battle—with only slight difficulty with the basin's pipes.

It is gone! (© Ian 2017)

I could then set about removing the tiles. They've been easy enough, too, with SDS chisel. There's some making-good needed around the window, and some of the plasterwork is inevitably damaged.

Radiator off wall, tiles gone (© Ian 2017)

Next is the floor (you can see I've started), which I ran out of time for before we had to load up and get the debris to the tip. The floor won't be quite as easy, but there you go: I hope once I get started, I can get the chisel under them. Once they're up, I can figure out what to do: might need a levelling screed if we re-tile the floor, but if we decide to put wood down, it'll just need a ply base. Decisions, decisions.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Late Summer

Just a few photos from this week.

All &copy Ian 2017

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

RHS Harlow Carr

Nothing exciting this weekend, but good progress on a few things. We spent most of Saturday painting windows (a bit late in the year, but hey-ho), and have probably done a bit less than half. We had a day out on Sunday and went to Harlow Carr, which is looking lovely (as you might expect).

RHS Harlow Carr (© Ian 2017)

Most of Monday was spent with the bees, who are winding down for the autumn. And today was spent making a bit of progress on our bathroom renovation plan (ie, progress on making a plan), and measuring the garden paths. Having previously used forestry/hedging chippings for these, we're planning to upgrade to aggregate. It's more expensive in the first place, but shouldn't need replacing every few years, which is both a lot of effort, and ongoing expense. The trouble is getting a suitably large load here, given the access difficulties—and in deciding on a satisfactory type of gravel...

Tuesday, 22 August 2017


It's been a while, but we had many of our university friends here for the weekend; all on Saturday, and they left in waves on Saturday, Sunday, and tomorrow. It's been good to see them all!

Tuesday, 15 August 2017


So much paint.

It's been a busy few days, since David and Ann left, getting work done on the preservatory and workshop, mainly so that the dining room can be tidied (it's currently a warehouse of beehive parts, and some more domestic stuff that lives out there) before we have a house full of guests next weekend.

We've primed, painted, and top-coated the three walls of the preservatory that we've plastered, as well as painting the skirting boards. The floor, which was still bare plywood around the perimeter, is now also painted (in the same green we started with a couple of years ago). The two windows in the gable end of the room, which were still single-glazed, have been replaced by the ever-effective John, with double-glazed windows that match (kind of; they're landscape aspect ratio, unlike the rest, which are all portrait) the rest of the front of the house. They look really good.

In the workshop, as well as tidying and sorting, we've painted the breeze block walls, which were stained and sooty, and are now a lovely white. The ceiling, which especially near the boiler was horrible, was primed with some remarkably effective shellac based primer, and is now beautifully clean white. It looks so much nicer in there, especially after also painting the floor (concrete paving slab) with a green garage floor paint. It looks really nice, and will be a lot easier to keep clean, compared to eternally-dusty concrete.

We even got rid of a load of plasterboard scraps, which have remained unused since the big insulate and remodel, and are likely to remain so.

Lastly, everything came back in from the dining room, and the preservatory is starting to look really ordered, with a big stock of beekeeping parts and equipment arrayed along the front benches.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017


It's been a weekend of splendid relaxation, aided immeasurably by the company of Ann and David. There has been considerable coffee drinking, baked good crafting, game playing, and even a film (Monsters University, which was great fun).

Someone (who shall remain nameless) decided we should make eclairs. Chocolate and salted caramel eclairs. It was a fine plan. (&copy Ian 2017)

Frankly, more weekends should be like this.

Enjoyment only slightly dampened by a missing jigsaw piece (&copy Ian 2017)

In (belated) honour of Yorkshire Day, we had Yorkshire Puddings as all three courses of dinner.

Starter with gravy (© Ian 2017)

Toad in the Hole as a main (© Ian 2017)

And served with honey as dessert (© Ian 2017)