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cafe_01It’s been snowing, with enthusiasm. The roads are cleared within a couple of hours and then ploughed every hour or so after that, and gritted in between so that the Very Important Drivers aren’t inconvenienced. Pavements are the responsibility of anyone living alongside them, if they can be bothered, and cycleways, well, no-one uses bicycles in winter. Well, no-one important anyway. Important people use cars.

I am a tad annoyed about this. Fighting to stay upright while bouncing along a rutted ice covered cycle lane in a gale, while drivers swish past on the cleared road does nothing for an even temper.

I’ll get over it. Doesn’t give me much to blog about though.

So, instead, I’ve got an update on our classroom art project, the one I got roped into last year. So far. People wanted a sketch of Stuttgart, but after making the more iconographic buildings things got a bit art deco and Steampunky, partly to give a slightly more utopian optimistic feel than you’d get from looking at the back end of Stuttgart as it really is, and partly because then no-one can say I got it wrong. I also have to design it so that everyone can be involved, so a lot of the city will be fairly simple shapes so that we can give people three colours and instructions on how to make base colours, highlights and shadow.

I still haven’t managed to get the Quadratura effect quite right, and the ‘cafe’ sign looks a bit lost. On the other hand everyone agreed to the idea, although that was probably because they knew they’d have to come up with another one if they didn’t.

Now I have to make a more detailed version ready for a projection, and a second window “with more forest and trees and stuff…”

In December our glorious leaders, in the form of the town council, announced that they were introducing a new traffic calming scheme. Finally we are getting a speed limit of 30 km/h (Ca. 20 mph) through the village, instead of 50 km/h (30 mph). This, according to google and my rather wooly maths, will mean it takes 2 minutes 24 second to go through the village, instead of 1 minute 26 seconds. A ‘delay’ of 58 seconds.

Cue howls of protest from local drivers.

This limit will apparently cause chaos. And… and… er… traffic jams, yes, lots of traffic jams… and it’ll cause more of that… oh, what was the word… began with a P… pollution, that was it. Pollution. Because er… slowing cars down means they pollute… more… Yeah: pollution bad. But not bad enough to stop me driving.

Besides. It’s not because of cars. It’s because there are too many Lorries. yes. All the noise and pollution is the fault of the 1300 lorries that drive through the village each day, not the 13000 cars: it’s all the trucks. And what about those busses getting priority at lights? How dare these lesser road users get priority over me? Don’t they realise that as a car user I am a superior being? And of course buses take up too much space as well. Get rid of them.

So what we need is more roads. nice fast roads running around the village so the lorries can go around the village and we can drive in the centre as much as we want. That’ll solve everything. What? The new road will go through a nature reserve. Ah, well, at least the roads in the village will be nice and clear.

After all, building roads for the last fifty years has worked so well for everyone, hasn’t it?

For use in those parts of ‘civilization’ where the Xtracycle may prove just too tempting for thieves and vandals, I have a Commuter Bike, picked up as a very ugly looking mountain bike complete with yellow transfers bearing the name ‘Stampede’.

Wikipedia defines a ‘stampede’ as:

“…uncontrolled concerted running as an act of mass impulse among herd animals or a crowd of people in which the herd (or crowd) collectively begins running, often in an attempt to escape a perceived threat.”

Yes, that sounds just like a bicycle.

Anyway, I bought the bike back in 2012 and did the bare minimum to make it into a basic commuter bike that would present as unattractive a target as possible: I added some scrap mudguards, a stand, V-Brakes, a set of old tyres from the Xtracycle, some elderly lights and the cheapest dynamo I could find.

The bike then got on with its main purpose in life of not being nicked all day at the tram stop while I was at carpentry college. It managed this for two and a half years with no trouble at all, although the front light turned out to be pretty but useless so I changed it before I ran into something, or more likely before something ran into me.

At some point the awful foam handlebars turned back into whatever oil based slime they’d been made of, and needed a replacement quickly, so in desperation I fitted the only handlebar grips I had, which happened to be cork.

Then last week I took it out to see what I’d need to change for the new commute into Stuttgart, and noticed it isn’t looking that ugly anymore.

commuter_01

And now I’m getting attached to the thing and wondering if I could give it some nice bar ends, or maybe at least get rid of those transfers and upgrade the luggage rack to one that doesn’t rattle… but that would defeat the object of having the bike in the first place. It’s there to be  ugly, dammit, or at least boring, so it doesn’t get nicked when chained to a lamppost in Stuttgart. Next thing you know I’ll be giving it a name…

Still, if anyone has an idea how to remove garish yellow transfers, please let me know…

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The Xtracycle as fitted onto my bike, consists of a frame, big panniers, and a piece of wood on the top, as seen in the picture above. On mine, the wood has been showing signs of wear and tear lately. Actually it’s been showing signs of wear and tear for several years, but as it wasn’t a ‘urgent’ problem, I naturally did nothing about it.

When I started working at the farm I realised I had access to wood and the right sort of tools to make a replacement. True to form I faffed about until last month, when I finally went hunting in the wood store for materials.

We’ve had various bits of hardwood donated over the years, which we rarely use as the children prefer to use softwoods like pine. The hardwoods end up at the back of the wood store gathering vast amounts of dust, so I dug up some Ash for the majority of the board, with a centre line made of beech, and two stripes from some walnut veneer. Notice the “carpenter’s triangle”. I’d like to think this gives my work an air of professionalism but we all know it is mostly there so that when I drop the lot on the floor I know what order they should be in.

Spraydeck_01

After dropping the whole lot on the floor -twice- I glued it liberally and put the result in clamps. You are supposed to have surfaces that fit perfectly but my wood warped slightly as it had been stored for so long. I solved this by clamping the planks together very heavily, leaving then for 48 hours and hoping for the best.

 

Spraydeck_02

There are no pictures of the cutting, planing and sanding, mostly because I needed both hands to stop the wood flying away and also because I wasn’t sure if this was going to work at all, so the next image is of the old and new spraydecks together. The new one is a bit heavier, but compared to the stuff I carry about normally, this is hardly going to be a problem. I hardly ride at breathtaking speeds anyway.

Spraydeck_03

At this point I realised I’d probably better makes something to fit the board to the bike. Being fussy I wanted the new spraydeck to clip onto the bike like the old one, and also to have no screws visible on the top of the deck. Being pessimistic I also wanted to keep the old spraydeck in case something went horribly wrong, so using the old clips was out of the question. Eventually I settled on two beechwood clips. Pretend you haven’t noticed that the holes aren’t exactly in line.

 

Spraydeck_04

Brackets fitted, as much by eye as measurements. This backfired when I realised the deck was slightly too far to the left, this was another reason to have the screws underneath: the mistakes are underneath too…

Spraydeck_05
Being a tree-hugging hippy, I oiled and waxed the deck instead of varnishing it. This allows me to go on about how you can feel the wood, and whine about modern finishes being all plastic and chemicals, at least up until the deck falls apart.

Spraydeck_06

So far it has survived the foul weather of the last week, not sure how it will react to the temperature changes of Spring though, I’ll get back to you on that…

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Yesterday, Beautiful God-daughter -and others- were giving flute recitals, so naturally I went to watch. The Xtracycle can be seen above in the large plaza outside the town arts centre where the performance was held. It is a very tasteful rebuild of an old tram depot.

The tram used to run through here to a couple of other places, including this town. Unfortunately the line was closed in 1978 ‘for economic reasons’ and ‘because we need the space for cars’. Of course. A local group tried to build a museum on the edge of the town but the local government decided to use the space for a petrol station instead.

A walking/cycle way runs along the old tramway, which is a nice thought, but really, we’d have preferred to have the tram.

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Track on old level crossing

But the shell of the old tram depot has a few cycle racks in one corner, so that’s sustainable transport covered.

In 1995 a new road bridge was built over the valley, making it easier to drive, walk, and cycle from one side to the other. It was promptly closed to pedestrian & cycle traffic because it was ‘unsafe’, so schoolchildren now have to be driven by their parents or take the bus.

And the town centres on both sides are crammed full of cars.

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Eldest son on tramway.

So now the local governments are looking at plans to possibly, maybe, build a new tramway and/or railway running along a similar route, at a cost of millions of Euros…

Ah, well.

More importantly, Beautiful God-daughter was awesome…

I’ve said before that cycling into the next big town is a simple matter of pootling through vineyards and gardens. Unfortunately riding back out again is rather harder work.

Step one is simple enough: find the shortest traffic free route through the suburbs of the town and  avoid being run over by the dustbin lorries that seem to infest these back streets.

Bigill_01

The next image was taken about 500 metres behind the church seen above. The weathervane on the tip of the tower is directly behind the camera, which makes this hill seem rather excesive, frankly.

This road is closed to cars, but there are always one or two who decide to take the short cut. Inevitably they decide they want to overtake on this section.

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At the top of the climb is a housing estate in a forest built in the days when everyone was going to use cars, and therefore with no infrastructure for bicycles whatsoever. Often when I ride here the local drivers have tooted encouragement, waved enthusiastically out of the window as they pass, and for some reason pointed frantically at the pavement.

I don’t know why this happens often here but almost nowhere else. Perhaps they just aren’t used to seeing cyclists on the road.

Bigill_03
The secret exit out of the top of the housing estate into fields.
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And the top of the climb looking back to the north, 20 minutes and about 200 metres after the first photograph. The reward for this climbing is a magnificent view towards the distant hills that mark the watershed between Rhine and Danube. Typically on the day I had my camera, it was too cloudy to see beyond the next plowed field.

We decided it was time for Beautiful Daughter to come on a bike ride with us. This caused much head scratching while I focused the remaining operable brain cells on a way to keep her baby seat from wobbling about in the Bakfiets.

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After massively over thinking things and sketching out wooden frames and other ideas, I remembered that the simplest solution is the best, and that we had a 200kg rated climbing rope that would work just fine. As long as I could still tie knots.

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About ten minutes later I had the seat tied down. unfortunately I’d also carefully tied the rope around the steering rod that runs under the bike. This meant that I could ride perfectly well as long as I didn’t have to turn any corners.

With some colorful language, another five minutes untying and retying the rope, and a total expenditure of €0,00 later we had this result. It is remarkable how the seat for smallest member of the family requires almost the entire Bakfiets.

Baby_Bak_03_alltogether

When we go out as a family these days, people notice. Here is the mothership with the satellites waiting outside the shops. The boys often lock their bike to the Bakfiets as it is heavier than the cheap cycle stands provided. The roof was to keep the wind out rather than any rain.

Beautiful daughter was a somewhat bemused at first, and gave the bakfiets a thorough inspection. Her brothers helped her to relax by by riding alongside and pulling faces. Inbetween she played with her cuddly toys before settling off to sleep.

Baby_Bak_03_entertainment

In flight entertainment was provided. She found the sight of Papa puffing up the hill more entertaining.

There are days when I ride somewhere because it is the fastest way to get somewhere…

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…and days when I grit my teeth and tell myself over and over that it is good for me and the environment in the hope my smug green glow somehow has mystical weather-protecting qualities, and get home with a beard full of ice and shoes full of water.

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And there are days when everything comes together and the sun shines and the air is clear, and even though it is a long way to go and the temperatures are below freezing you couldn’t pay me enough to travel any other way…

PD_02
…so if you came here  for the ususal grumpiness, it has been delayed by good weather. Normal service will be resumed. Eventually…

Things normal people carry by bike: Books, laptops, shopping, small children…

 

Swedesaw

Things I end up carrying by bike: swede saws.

 There is a good reason for this, honest.

I was given a large piece of lime wood (D: Lindenholz) to hopefully convert into carved spoons and other items. The wood has to be split or it will be damaged as it dries, which meant hauling it to the garden and attacking it with an axe and heavy hammer, and hauling it back to the workshop to cut into smaller pieces for carving.

The problem with this plan was that it required your truly not to leave the swede saw in the garden. Which I promptly did, and had to collect it with the Xtracycle.

Mind you, I noticed that drivers gave me plenty of space…

(I’m still open to suggestions for garden planting…)

Suddenly it is March and almost too late to deal with the greatest challenge of the year. I’m not referring to the whole complex business of registering as unemployed, or even sorting out our tax returns, but of course the challenge of getting the garden ready for spring and deciding what to plant.

In the first season in the garden I planted out a variety of seeds directly into the ground, which considering the ground is basically solid clay and infested with slugs, worked remarkably well. The second year I read lots of instructions, prepared seedlings, manured the beds, et c, and achieved mixed success. I decided this was because I was trying too many things at once and went for simple last year: potatoes and onions with a few other random seeds that I found lurking about.

We put more spuddies into the ground than we got out and I think I managed to harvest one onion before they were chomped by slugs/mice/birds/trolls.

It didn’t help that I’m still pretty clueless and that I planted everything at about the same time, so the surviving plants reached maturity while we were in the UK, bolted, fell over and got eaten.

This year, I’ve decided on a different tack. I’m going to concentrate on three ‘bulk’ crops in the garden: a root crop, a bean variety, and… something else, possibly onions or leeks, or kale. With only three varieties to worry about, I can hopefully be a bit more certain of what needs doing and when, maybe even get to them before the Mice.

Being about as clueless as four years ago, I’m passing the question to the real gardeners out there: What three varieties would you recommend?* The garden is west-facing, so it gets very warm. Is there any way of avoiding a massive growth/bolt in August/September? Or, with the clay being the solidity it is, should I just give up and open a pottery instead?

*Let us discount Rhubarb, Celery, and Cauliflower: these are not vegetables but abominations.

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