Suspended - Paul is moving to a bigger patch and hopes to resume this regular feature in the near future

There are features on gardening, features on Architecture and features on cycling but here on the BBB we are going to combine all three. So if you want horticulture, high rise or pedaling then this is the page for you!

                       Paul's Patch



To read the latest installment of 'Paul's Patch' then click on the site below

                                        To read earlier reviews of 'Paul's Patch' then click on the site below                                           

Month by month our Gardening Guru Paul Nelson, who has recently joined the team here on the BBB, will tell us 'How Does My Garden Grow'. Paul moved into his first house a year ago and though his garden area was limited, he was determined to use what little space he had to grow fruit and vegetables. His first season was reasonably successful as he tranformed a neglected lawn into arable land which produced a variety of vegetables that were well received by those fortunate enough to sample them.

Paul is an architect by profession and has combined his work and hobby which should see his efforts bear fruit (again literally) and each month you will be able to see the progress. So let's start the feature rolling with his first contribution.

Shed Building & First Sowings

The first two weekends in January have been especially kind given the recent bad run of weather. Having ordered my new greenhouse at the end of December to replace my old and failing shed my attention quickly turned to the construction of its replacement.
I use the term ‘shed’ in the loosest possible sense of the word – as – this would be no 'off the shelf' sort of affair. I decided quite early on that if I was going to build a more permanent structure; that it would provide me an opportunity to design and detail something which would give me plenty of space for winter training on the bike as well as ample room to work from the garden on winter days such as this.
The base was constructed in the week or so leading up to christmas – however the real fun began after new year when I set to work on the main structure which would carry the ‘green roof’. I have always admired green roofs for their ability to transform an unusable space into a vibrant community for local ecology to thrive. The principal behind this roof would be to encourage pollinators into the garden in order to improve the visiting fauna and thereby enhance the fruit and vegetable yield.
The detailing of such a roof is fairly simple and I would encourage anyone to give it a try. Like any typical garden shed the main base is constructed from 18mm OSB board (in this instance) fixed to rafters at 400mm centres. A perimeter upstand of 100mm is then created from timber carcassing in order to produce a ‘tray’ in which the subsoil and matting would sit within. Laid on top of the OSB – I opted for a simple pond liner of 3x4m which provides both a waterproof layer as well as root resistant protection. This layer is draped over the perimeter upstand and will eventually lap behind the cladding boards as seen in the photo below:


The main frame completed with the pond liner acting as a waterproof membrane ready to receive the green roof.

On top of the membrane I opted for a thin layer of gravel and around 50-75mm of loose top soil. The pre-grown wildflower matting, purchased from Lindum Turf was then rolled onto the substrate and watered well in order to establish the planting and help the roots knit into the soil below. In fairness – very little work was required at this stage – as the rain seemed to provide all the water necessary!
The finished product below looks a little sullen at this stage – but what can you expect in January?
My hope is that, come springtime, the roof will provide an interesting focal point to the garden and help establish an area for wildlife to prosper.

              The wildflower matting laid onto the substrate – ready for growth to start in the coming months ahead.

The roof has been constructed at a 12 degrees angle facing west towards the gable elevation of the house. Having said this, however, the roof should receive plenty of sunlight during the spring and summer months and if anything the shade from the house will be useful during those ‘occasional’ warm afternoons that we so frequently get up north!
With the roof now in place, the remaining task of completing the cladding, door and flooring will be relatively simple and fortunately non weather dependant!
I am hopeful that in the next few weeks to have completed ‘casa de nelson’ and to have demolished the rotten and damp shack that constitutes as a shed currently! I will of course keep you updated on future progress as well as providing a live feed of the ribbon cutting ceremony!
In the meantime, I have rather impatiently taken the monumental stride of starting the spring sowings. Whilst the snow fell outside – I could’t resist the temptation of sprinkling a few seeds of the humble leek into one of the trays which survived from last year.

                  An early sowing of the french leek variety ‘Long de Mezieres’. The first of the season!

Although this season’s leeks have yet to be harvested; I found that they have not really thickened up to be an adequate size and I have put this down to a late sowing. By starting the seedlings off now, I am hopeful that they will reach maturity well in advance of Christmas 2018 allowing me to clear the plot for other overwintering veg such as cabbage and broad beans. It is certainly a bit of an experiment at this stage – but nothing will be lost if I need to make a second sowing in the coming weeks and months. In which case – watch this space for future progress!

End of first peep at Paul's Patch - Now watch for month by month updates.


                 March 2021 Review

Even March is the big turning point in the year - where the balance tips towards favourable growing conditions, longer days and an increased excitement for the season ahead.
This excitement can often lead to some rather hasty decisions and over the years I have learnt to sit tight as the warm days arrive only to be replaced by a succession of sharp frosts overnight. With the advantage of writing this on a cold evening in mid April I can say that I'm fairly happy that my patience has paid off.
The last days of March ended with temperatures up in the low twenties and i truely had to restrain myself not to rush out and plant all of my young seedlings. Undoubtedly this has paid dividends as I now have a healthy batch of plants ready to go in the greenhouse.

Admittedly - I did risk a few crops out in the open ground, such as these Blauwschoker peas. This is a purple variety which I have been keen to try for a number of years now. On the whole they seem to be faring ok. Many of the legumes will tolerate frost so I'm hopeful they'll romp away once the warm weather returns. Sometimes the cold weather can stimulate early flowering and podding so this could be to an advantage ultimately. In any case - I have a backup batch fighting to break through the glass in the greenhouse.

As I have mentioned in my previous couple of posts - the addition of a south facing conservatory can really increase the season by extending the sowing period and allowing tender plants to develop without the risk of cold weather killing them off. During March this space is at its most crammed. Slowly it empties as we progress to April but this nighttime shot seemed to capture the moment well. I should add that I have now managed to reclaim the dining table thankfully!

The increasing sunlight in March really helps create some dramatic scenes in the garden. The bare silhouettes of the trees against a fiery red sky ticks the box for my sunset/ sunrise photo of the month. This seems to be becoming a regular feature now so don't be surprised to see more of these in my monthly roundups.

Observing the path of the sun as it crosses the garden on its daily commute has for many weeks occupied my thoughts. This sounds a little odd so let me provide some context. In recent months I have been very focussed on the climate crisis issue and what it means for all of us in the future. We can't sit idly by and let politicians or big corporations decide on how to deal with the growing impact that will ultimately affect everybody directly or indirectly. Change must be made on an individual level as a collective effort.
Focusing on my own circumstances I have been drawn to the idea of generating electricity through solar Photovoltaic for some time. As I researched and delved deeper into this and the cost outlay against potential savings and income, the more it seemed to make shrewd financial sense.
In many ways, the spark that really set me off down this path was the photo below. As I dropped down to take this shot I was suddenly struck by the angle of these broad bean plants and the way in which they leaned and stretched towards the March sunlight. It's an invisible force but ultimately a very strong one which has the power to turn a small seed into an abundant crop. It almost seemed ludicrous not to taking advantage of this apparent and free source of energy to run my home.

Once this ball was set in motion it took less than two weeks from an initial enquiry until installation on the 27th. From that day onwards we have been blessed with blue skies and the panels have delivered a staggering yield! The system I chose came with battery storage, which allows me to continue using solar power long after the sun has set. In fact - I have been completely off grid since installation day and at the time of writing, have also exported 165Kwh too! I intend to provide some further posts looking at the setup and numbers/ figures in more detail but so far I will say - I am impressed.
On the last day of March, the scaffolding came down and I was able to glimpse the completed installation in all its shimmering glory!

Diverting my attention back to terra firma, my head wasn't totally in the clouds (if there were any). I was more than happy as the month closed out - to get my hands dirty and took the opportunity to plant out my onion sets. In previous years I have tried growing them from seed and never really focused on a big supply or harvest however I have realised over winter just how many I buy from the supermarket and am therefore keen to grow and store more. They are a versatile vegetable and are often used as a base to many soups and other dishes. With the front garden now turned over to full cultivation I've just got to hope that the neighbours don't get to them before I do!

Electric dreams - A little aside

What does it mean - to go off grid? It's a term that is thrown about a lot these days and is often perceived to being in a state of complete energy independence for electricity & heating. The question many of us immediately ask though - is - well, can this be achieved? Is it truly possible to be untethered, so to speak. Our modern lives are centred on energy consumption from the moment we wake until the moment our head hits the pillow and more commonly these days, extending overnight too with a plethora of gadgets and smart phones on a never ending charging cycle.
Over the last few months, it's a question which I have pondered quite a bit especially with terms like climate crisis and carbon neutrality seeping evermore into our collective psyche. This increased consciousness and awareness of our carbon impact on the planet has driven governments to declare climate emergencies and encouraged a swell of youth activism. Quite often it can feel overwhelming and with it, a profound sense of being stranded and helpless against the leviathan of economic capitalism which continues to demand further consumption of fossil fuels to maintain its existential existence. This is a totally normal response and one which many will have confronted over the past couple of years. The truth of the matter is though, that small acts on a personal level can lead to a collective and powerful shift.
The purpose of this blog series will be to look in detail at how one can potentially take this leap of faith and move towards a low carbon lifestyle within the constraints of the economic model and framework we seem to be perpetually trapped in. The process cannot and will not happen overnight and patience is required to take the small steps, however I will aim to show you my own personal method as a potential template for others to follow. This is by no means a one size fits all approach and other circumstances will be different however, I hope that if you are reading this then there may be some snippets of useful info that you can take away and adapt to make your own.

Unhooking from the Mother Ship
One of the biggest challenges to going carbon neutral is gaining energy independence. It is the biggest single act that you can take but also the one that deters most people due to the apparent cost and outlay of doing so. If I was going to move forward with my goal of gaining independence then somehow I had to make this piece of the jigsaw work. For most people, this option takes the form of Photovoltaics or PV for short. Often installed as panels onto an existing roof, they are built to harvest solar energy from direct and/ or indirect sunlight and convert the photons emitted from the Sun into usable electricity. I knew straight away that from a practical perspective, my home was ideally placed to take advantage from this arrangement. The rear of the property sits 30 degrees off south and as a result becomes a real sun trap during the day. This doesn't mean that if your house is sat east/ west that you cannot take advantage of solar but what I am emphasising here, is my thought process and the logical decisions that one must take into consideration when looking at renewables.
The next step was to investigate cost. Its the elephant in the room with solar and although the pay-back time is decreasing considerably as prices for the panels decline. It is perhaps the single biggest stumbling block that hinders many for taking this leap. For me, the way I tackled the question was by looking into ways that I could potentially make a continuous monthly payment that either matched or bettered my current gas and electricity monthly cost. If I could unlock this then the rest would surely fall into place.
So...I'm going to lay these figures bare and let you decide on whether you come to the same conclusion that I did, then I will show you how I achieved the break for freedom! First up then, was my quote for continuing my dual fuel tariff with my current energy provider in 2021 against the install quote for a 4.6kW PV system with 4.8kW battery storage. Looking at electricity independently, my estimated usage for the year was 1800kWh and my estimated yield from the solar panels for the first year was 3941kWh. At this point you're probably scratching your head and thinking; well why do I need that much electricity if I only consume half of the estimated yield. The short answer is in future-proofing. At present my heating and car fuel do not come from electricity directly and therefore I need to consider the impact of incorporating these into the system at a later date. The battery storage is also another important aspect too of which I will go into more detail later.

Quoted Monthly Cost for Electricity & Gas (2021): £58.00

Quoted Cost for Installation of PV Panels (4.6kW) and Battery Storage (4.8kW): £8500

Investigating ways of bringing this £8500 down into manageable monthly payments I was keen to look at the option of taking out an additional 'Green Mortgage'. Many banks and building societies now offer these and they are taken out at a reduced rate of interest to encourage people to upgrade their homes to renewable sources or make them more efficient through insulation etc. I was quite clear from the outset that I would only proceed with this, if I could a) match or better my current quoted monthly cost for gas and electricity and b) maintain my remaining mortgage term length, which in my case is 20 years. In this way I reckoned the plunge to be fairly cost neutral.
You can therefore imagine my joy when, after a relatively quick and painless meeting with an advisor, I received a quoted figure of £44.63 a month. At this point I had an epiphany moment, suddenly the route to renewables was open and I decided to march towards it at a fairly rapid pace. Within two weeks of agreeing and signing up, the panels were installed. The company I opted for was a local based business called Contact Solar and I honestly cannot fault them. The installation was professional, fast and the communication leading up to it was extraordinary. I had no pushy sales team and the surveyor that came to the house prior to installation took time to explain my options. Their website link is as follows:
The system installed also connects to your smartphone wirelessly and as a consequence I am able to read this data almost live throughout the day. This can naturally be quite addictive and there is a constant temptation when the sun shines to have a quick look and see how much the system is kicking out. As it has now been five weeks since installation I can now look back over April and share with you, the stats for the month. It is worth pointing out that barring the odd day, we have had little rain and blue skies from dawn to dusk, however, the results are nonetheless impressive.

Total Monthly Yield for April: 473.7kWh

Export to Grid: 332.1kWh

Consumption: 142.1kWh

Battery Charge: 83.5kWh

Best Generation Day: 22nd April @ 22.3kWh

Worst Generation Day: 4th April @6.6kWh

At this point - it's important to note that export to grid is normally a figure that you can get paid from and until I have a smart meter installed, this has effectively just leaked away for free. Quite lucrative for my neighbour's energy providers for sure! If you were to apply a typical export cost of 5p per kWh I could have been paid £16.61 for this month's generation, which if you were to offset it against the monthly cost paid for the panels would effectively mean that my electricity cost this month has been £28.02.
Great! I hear you shout, but this is April and we have had sunshine for 30 days. What about in Winter when these figures are massively reduced? Surely you'll not have enough to meet your demand? Well - this is were the next step comes into play.

       Eight panels installed to the south facing roof.               Four Panels installed to the North facing roof.

Growing Arms & Tentacles
You've probably guessed from this sub-heading what I'm going to discuss now and also discovered how bad my attempted puns are.
Octopus energy was a company that I'd heard banded about from time to time in the past. I'd never really looked at them in any great detail and had never really considered switching to them. However, when you go solar, it's important to remember that you still need an energy provider for electricity. There will be times when you need to import power from the grid. Even in April I paid for 4kWh! This is mainly due to a process known as balancing. When you switch an appliance on such as an oven or kettle, it momentarily has to draw power from the grid whilst the battery or panels catch up. On an average day this ends up being somewhere around 0.2kWh. Which is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. In winter though, there just won't be enough solar power to get you through the evening even with battery storage. However, with battery storage comes the ability to charge up at any time of the day and with a smart meter installed you can work out every half hour what the wholesale cost per kWh is going to be. Chuck in a smart battery/ inverter and you've suddenly got the option to pre-programme the system to only take electricity when it falls below a manually preset level.
With Octopus' agile tariff you can download an app which tells you what the price is going to be each day in advance and in some cases when generation is high and demand is low they will actually pay you to take power off the grid! I.e. the price per kWh will be in negative numbers. An example of what this app looks like is shown below.

The great thing about this is that you don't need solar panels to take advantage of the tariff, you could opt for simple battery storage or even none at all. It gives you total flexibility to plan your day around the pricing.
At the same time, the agile tariff also works in reverse, so I can establish when the best time to export energy back to the grid will be and maximise the amount I get paid to do so. With the inverter installed as part of my system, it is designed to automatically connect to Octopus which means I don't even have to use the app above to work out what and when the prices will be favourable. I simply tell it how many half hour slots I want to import and export and what maximum price I'd like this to begin from.
This transforms how we consume energy in a way that I've not seen with any other provider. What is exciting is the ability this brings when considering the future moves to electric heat storage and car charging, which we will all inevitably have to move towards. Why pay top dollar for electricity when you don't need to? Whilst I'm in no way plugging octopus in any way, the stats behind their growth in the industry are impressive and I'd encourage you to take a look yourself.
If you do consider switching, you can also get £50 credit using the link below. This also gives me an additional £50 too but its a no brainer if you're signing up to them and you'll also receive a link for sharing too once signed up.

Next Steps
So, what are my next logical steps with all of this? As I alluded to earlier, I've more energy than I can possibly consume at present, which seems a waste on investment.
Firstly, my Smart Meter, which will be installed in a few days, will at least ensure that my export generates some earnings however I'd prefer there to be minimal export in the first instance ideally. It therefore means that I could either look to move towards electric heating or an electric vehicle. The latter of which is my current line of enquiry. With a 12 year old petrol car sat on the drive, this seems like the next progression for me. Why pay £50-£60 to top her up when I could charge a car for free? Granted, there will be a monthly cost with a new vehicle but this pays itself, particularly if I was driving the same number of miles pre-pandemic. It also goes without saying that an old petrol car will not last forever without the usual faults that come with it. If I sell now I can use the money as payment for a wall charger and further add future value to the house in the process.
It seems to me, that we are now moving towards a tipping point where the costs associated with EV and PV take up do outweigh the costs of inaction. Wholesale electric and petrol prices are only going in one direction and soon this gap will be even more acute.
In my next blog, I hope to bring more information and insight into my shift towards renewables and I hope that you have found this blog useful and thought provoking especially if you are on the verge of considering the switchover yourself. What I hope you take from this, is that it doesn't have to cost an extortionate amount to go green and that your pocket can actually benefit from the move as well as giving you peace of mind. Taking these active steps is liberating personally and ultimately better for the health of the planet and the health of everyone.
Finally - if you'd like to ask any questions or find out more information on the topics I've discussed, please get in touch via email on I'm happy to guide you through everything in more detail.

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