How to cork a wine bottle using a hand corker.

This is my first ever instructional video explaining  How to cork a wine bottle.

bottle corker

The bottle corker

Why do we bottle  wine

Putting wine into a  bottle with a cork is an excellent way of keeping the wine until you want to drink it. When wine is stored it should only have a very small amount of oxygen available. Uncorking  a bottle of wine is a pleasant ritual which many prefer to using a screwtop bottle. The corks seen in the video are number 9 corks and are they are the most common. They should last 10 years with no problem.

When to bottle wine
The simple anwser is when no more gasses will be created which could cause the bottle to explode. Wine made from Grapes is picked in the Autumn. The initial very vigourous primary fermentation when most of the sugar is converted into alcohol, lasts about 10 days. The fertmentation then slows down and then many people say that the wine should be kept in a cool place for the  first winter.  The cold temperature seems to help the wine clear. The wine is just about drinkable by March of the following year and by May it should taste good. However, wine is not generally bottled until at least one year after it was first  picked because  sometimes  more subtle types of fermentation can occur such as maleoactic fermentation. This could create carbon dioxide which may cause the bottle to explode. Other types of wine such as champagne and fizzy wine can be bottled when fermentation is still active but they need high pressure bottles and a special cork. It is possible to stop a wine fermenting when it is still sweet by adding Potassium Sorbate which stop the yeast reproducing. However we never put chemicals of any kind into our wine.

 
Cork crusher

Where the cork is crushed.

The video below explains how we put cork into the bottles. For a very small producer like ourselves, a small floor mounted hand corker is enough for our needs. In reality we store a lot of our wine in recycled 5 litre plastic containers. However, a bottle of wine with a cork and a label is a pleasant object so we always bottle some to give away as gifts and to add a sense of occasion when sitting around the table etc. By the way the sphincter like crusher in the centre is called an iris. It dilates and reatracts a bit like the iris in an eye.

Facts about our Vineyard

This is just an information sheet to contain the information about our vineyard for internal use.

grape_picking

2013
We start by planting 75 petit verdot on the Era field. There are also a few plants made from cuttings which are white grapes.

2014
Planted 250 new vines on the new field. Half of them Cabernet Sauvignan the other half Bobal.
We did make some wine but it was a mix of our own and some grapes from over the hill.

2015
We made about 40 litres of wine.
The plants were pruned correctly for the first time in October.

2016
We planted 125 Tempranillo and 125 Cabernet Sauvignon

An audit in June by Daniel the Dressing Gown Man states:
There are 660 growing vines.
About 50 did not make it to October.

Harvest:

The harvest happened on the 21st September.
4 crates from new field
3 crates from the Era field
3 crates from down below.
It took about 2 hours with 6 people to do the harvest.

Made about 100 litres of grape must.
About 12% alcohol potential on the light meter.

Pressing:
The pressing happened on 15th of October with the help of Jordan, Pierre, Jane and Caroline the Belgian girl. The wine was quite dry. I estimate that there were about 65 litres.

Notes: Many of the new vines planted were ripped out by foxes searching for insects.
Maybe the goatshit, leaf mold and earth mix should be aged longer before use.

2017
100 bobal ordered. Arrival date 1st April.
 We planted 1 new line and the rest were used to replace dead vines

This time we used the new petrol auger and it took most of the work out of preparing the holes. In August we put the top wires on all the lines.

Harvest:
The team was Sam, Heather, Alex (skateboarder), Phil Kiwi, Nitsan

The harvest happened on the 15th September.
35 crates in total.
18 crates from new field
11 crates from the Era field
It took about 3 hours with 6 people to do the top fields
6 crates from down below this took about 25 minutes

Made about 450 litres of grape must.
About 15% alcohol potential on the light meter.

The pressing happened on 15th of October with the help of Sam, Heather She-Wolf,  Phil Dynes. The time before pressing was much shorter and wine was still sweet. I estimate that there were about 280 litres.

 

When does grid parity happen in the south of Spain?

A view of grid parity from someone who has been living off grid for 10 years.
The date of writing this post is 8th July 2017.

What is Grid Parity?

Grid parity  occurs when an alternative energy source can generate power at the same  price as buying power from the electricity grid. Or to put it another way: After installing an alternative energy system how long will it take the before the cost of installation will be the same as if the house had been connected to an electric company. This is called pay back time.

The Quick Answer

In case you just want a quick answer in my opinion it would take 8 and a half years.
Below I will explain how I calculated this figure.

Calculations

Our annual electricty usage is 2005 kWh per year.
This is in our  house which is not connected to the grid.
The average occupation is about 4 people.
We do not use electrity for heating, cooking or AC.
The biggest electricty use we have is the swimming pool pump.
We live a fairy normal life and we have a freezer and  fridges.
We very occasionally have to use a generator when there is a prolonged cloudy spell but the cost is minimal. Maybe 20 euros per year.

We calculate the costs of the electric company by looking at the electricty bill we have for another house. The name of the company is Iberdrola.

We use the figure of 3000 watts as the maximum amount of power that can be used at any one time. (la potencia) The figure we use for the price of electrity is 0.16 euros per  kWh. There are other expenses such as electricty tax (impuesto), equipment hire (alquiler) and VAT (IVA).

The price per year of electricity from the GRID.

The cost if we bought the electricty from the grid would be 598 euros per year.
224 for additional costs and 374 euros for the electricity.

How much our solar electrical installation would cost.
To replicate our system you would need
1250 watts of panels – 840 euros 
50 amp combined inverter charge controller 750 euros
12 x 2v Lead Acid batteries 800 amp hours. 3500 euros.

Total cost 5090 euros

Total installation cost divided by GRID cost is 8.5

So time to parity is 8.5 years

Conclusion:
There are lots of other variables such as battery life and efficiency of the batterys which we have not considered here but 8.5 years  is a good basic figure and it feels about right..  

If I lived in a city would I cut off from the grid?
No probably not. If you have solar power  you always have to be a bit conscious of the time of day and if there is sun or not. The battery technology is the most important factor.  Batterys like the TESLA powerwall sound very promising and could provide about the bare minimum which would satisfy most people. I imagine that within 10-15 years in the future we will see a green energy revolution with excellent power storage and the  demise of the internal combustion engine.

The best thing about this situation for me is that we have been here for 10 years so our electricty is now effectively free. I just hope that our existing batterys can hold out long enough so that there are very good possibilities are available when the time comes to replace them.  

Aparently  450g  of carbon dioxide is put into the atmosphere per Kwh for electricty bought from the grid.

According to these figures we have not caused 9 metric tons of C02 to be released into the atmosphere.

 

 

 

Novella Carpenter – Urban farmer

Novella Carpenter

Novella Carpenter

There are not many people crazy or weird enough to actually enjoy producing food on a small scale so for me it was really great to read Novella Carpenter’s book. Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer.
Her book describes how she got into urban farming in a rough barrio in Oakland California using a vacant lot next to her house. She also has kept pigs, goats, chickens, bees, made wine, grown vegetables, planted trees etc but in an urban environment. The video below has an interview with Novella and it gives a very brief idea of what she does. Like us, Novella is a sociable person who would not want to be socially isolated on a farm in the middle of nowhere. Part of her childhood was spent in the middle of nowhere and it seems that the urban farm satisfies both the urge to be sociable, be part of a city  and also  the appreciation of nature and a more rural life. We ourselves have a similar dilemma but we solve this problem by having visitors and volunteers. If you like the idea of self sufficiency this book is a great read. Novella has a very pleasant way of writing and I particulary like her no nonsense style which includes plenty of  swearing. If I were inventing a fantasy neighbourhood including the most interesting people  I would definately have Novella as one of my  neighbours. She also has a blog here

The book is available at Amazon UK
or Amazon USA

 

Batch Water Heater – Free Hot Water

Batch Water Heater – Free Hot Water

batch_water_heater_on_roof

Probably the cheapest, simplest way of getting free hot water from the sun is a solar batch heater.  All you have to do is use a tank of water placed in the sun which will act as a pre-heater for the water which normally goes into the  hot water system.

In our case we used a 150 litre immersion heater tank which had stopped working. I am sure that in many countries there would be recycling centres which would let you have old immersion heaters for free. You can even chain them together in order  to make a very large capacity pre-heating system. The only possible drawback could be that if you live in a very cold climate they could freeze up in a prolonged cold spell.  In this case it would be a good idea to disconnect them during the coldest months.

To make some sort of calculation about the energy that my batch heater could expect to absorb I asked a question on a forum. The answer is here My tank is about 50cm radius by 1 metres length so it probably has a power intake of around 400 watts.

According to my own energy calculator it would take over 11 hours  to get the water to shower temperature.

“It would take 11 hours 27 minutes to heat 150 litres of water from a starting temperature of 15 C to a final temperature of 40 C when 400 watts is applied. The energy consumed is 4.58 kWh. The cost in Spain would be  0.87 euros.”

It is not possible to give exact figures but  our current setup consists of a 50 litre black PVC pre-heat tube, the 150 litre batch heater in this post and a 150 litre thermosiphon solar heater.
One one day last week that was  enough for 5 powerful hot showers at the end of a full day of sun. After that the water ran cold.

Batch water heater creation

Hannah preparing the hot water heater

The first thing to do with an immersion heater is to strip off the insulation. I decided to only strip off the insulation which is facing the sun and leave the rest.  I cut off the mild steel covering with an angle grinder then hacked away at the foam insulation with chisels. In the photo above Shep is helping Hannah (our very pleasant Canadian volunteer) to strip the foam off.

Batch water heater in cold frame

Batch water heater in cold frame

I put the tank in an old cold frame made out of plywood. I sprayed expanding builders foam behind the tank.

Solar water heating system

Solar water heating system. 150 litre  thermosiphon, batch heater and PVC plastic tube

The window pane is from an old house before we had double glazing. It was very simple to connect the water to the tank using flexible plumbing fittings. The water that goes into the tank is pre-heated in a long piece of pvc tubing mentioned in another post

The only cost involved was the flexible plumbing tubes for just a few euros.
I estimate that this could save us over  120 euros per year.

 

Pickled Walnuts – How to make them

Pickled walnuts

Pickled Walnuts – This is the finished product. These have been in vinegar since last year. I made 8kg last year but only have 2 jars left.

I have always loved pickled walnuts. The green immature nuts are pickled before they go hard. Apparently they are very popular in England especially before strong tasting Indian spices because available.  Their main use is with cheese in ploughman’s lunch type meals. We add them to salads and I occasionally  eat one neat right out of the jar. Before writing this post I visited about 12 other pages about pickled walnuts. Most of them have an almost identical recipe.  The main variations are the amount of salt to put in the brine, the amount of time to leave them in the brine and to either boil them after brining or to leave them in the sun. There is a lot of difference in how sweet people like them, the commercial ones are quite sweet.

I have made them for the last 3 years but each year I forgot how I did it the previous year so hopefully this blog post will help me improve them scientifically.

It is possible to buy pickled walnuts but they are incredibly expensive. In the USA a 390g bottle costs $16  Click here to buy pickled walnuts at Amazon That would mean that the the batch I am making this year would be worth $615 or $51 per month, that is enough to pay for the internet connection.  In the UK you can buy pickled walnuts in the shops I think they are made by  Crosse & Blackwell. (or is that Branston Pickle?)

The amount of salt
If you look at other recipes they often give very inexact instructions about how much salt to add. In the end I have decided to use a 10% brine solution. Just put all the green walnuts into a bucket. Weigh the bucket with some weighing scales. Add the water until they completely cover the walnuts, then weigh the bucket again. If you are using the metric system the increase in weight is the same as the amount of water so in our case 7.6 kilos is 7.6 litres.  Then I used the brine calculator on this page

What is the salt doing? I don’t think any fermentation is going on in this recipe. The function of the salt is to draw the liquid out of the walnuts and to enable them to dry out without rotting and then replace the liquid with preservative vinegar. By the way 3 years ago I made them much too salty before pickling. I corrected this by putting them in water for a day. 

The Recipe
Date: 5th June 2015
10kg walnuts
7.6 litres water + 843g salt (10% brine solution) 

Date: 22nd June 2016
17.4kg walnuts
18 litres water +2000g salt (10% brine solution) 

 

Method
Pick green walnuts with no hard shell inside: (in early June)
Prick them all with a fork
Leave then in salt water brine for 3 weeks. (move them around with your hand occasionally)
Drain the water leave them in the sun until they are dry and black. (3 days)
Put them into jars and pour vinegar over them.
Add pickling spices to the vinegar.
Malt vinegar is probably best with you can also use cider vinegar with a couple of bottles of balsamic vinegar mixed in.

By the way: The best place to buy malt vinegar is in the Asian supermarkets in Sparkbrook Birmingham UK. It is possible buy it  in 5 litre containers at low prices.

picking_walnuts

Kayley and Ian Picking walnuts

This is Kayley our Maori volunteer  from New Zealand and Ian from Scotland picking walnuts. Shep the dog tried a walnut but ended up vomitting. I tried a raw one last year and it almost made me vomit. The haircuts are done with  battery operated clippers from Lidl.

Green walnuts in the tree

Green walnuts in the tree

The green walnuts read around mid June. If you push a knitting needle through them you should meet no hard bits.

pricking_walnuts

Here we are prickling the green walnuts with a table fork about 4 times each nut. I did warn Kayley and Ian  that it is best to use rubber gloves but they liked the idea of having brown hands for a few days.

walnuts

Some of these nuts have blemished. It does not matter because they all turn black in the end.

Here is a the wikipedia entry for walnuts

I will put some more pictures up as the process continues.

 

Losing weight with vegetarian food

Cutting up vegetables

Cutting up vegetables

We had a very pleasant Canadian vegetarian visitor to stay for 3 weeks, her name is Hannah. As an experiment we decided to be vegetarian for the time of her stay. Sarah made a 21 day recipe plan with as many vegetarian dishes as she could think of. 

Rather than feeling deprived for the 3 weeks we actually thought that vegetarian food was really tasty.  One of the most interesting aspects was that we started to lose weight with no effort. Steve, another visitor lost 3 kilos and I lost 2 kilos. We drank wine most nights and ate to almost bursting point several times. 

So after this experiment we have decided to become flexitarians. That is vegetarians who only eat meat occasionally. If you actually investigate the facts it is a wonder why most of us are not vegetarians.

Click here for a page of interesting facts about vegetarianism

 

 

Is keeping chickens economically viable?

Chicken Coop

Chicken Coop

From the end of December to April, we are at the coast in a city. We keep the chickens in a coop with a hen house and run on the top terrace.The same system could be used by anyone with just a few metres of free space even in a city.

I thought it would be interesting to work out the viability of keeping a few free-range chickens and selling the surplus eggs to friends and family. We want to answer these 3 questions: 

How much does it cost? 
Is there any profit?
Is it worthwhile?  

Wooden Chicken Coop

Wooden Chicken Coop

Here are the results of our experiment:

Starting on 26th December 2013, we decided to sell our surplus eggs to friends. There are 7 chickens in a wooden henhouse and chicken run.

Details of experiment:
Duration: 52 days from 26th Dec 2013 -15th Feb 2014
Total eggs laid: 207

Expenses:
Chicken food:
14 euros for 25kg chicken food
7 euros for 14kg loose wheat
3 euros for a bale of straw
Total: 24 euros

Two chickens

Two chickens: these are two of this year’s newly hatched hens (with white ears)

Income:
The eggs were sold at slightly below the price of free range eggs in the supermarket.
The average price of the eggs was 1.30 euros for 6 medium eggs (54-63 grams), 1.50 euros for 6 large eggs (64-73 grams) and 1.70 euros for 6 extra large eggs (84-93 grams).
207 eggs were sold for 49 euros.

By now, all of the 4 new hens were laying medium-sized eggs and the older eggs were laying large-extra large eggs.

Profit: 25 euros
Profit per day: 48 cents

Infrastructure costs:
7 hens 56 euros. Three of the chickens were bought and four were raised from eggs. The cost of buying a laying hen is 8 euros per bird.

Chicken coop: 120 euros

The full infrastructure costs are 176 euros.

It would take an entire year to recoup the investment if the cost of the chickens and their coop is included.

Once the infrastructure costs have been covered, there would be a profit of 174 euros per year.

Conclusion:
Most people would not consider keeping chickens on a small scale to be economically viable if only the amount of work and the amount of financial gain is considered.

However, it seems to be worthwhile if you consider it to be a pleasant hobby.

There are other advantages which cannot be judged on financial terms and which override the purely commercial concerns and may explain why we continue to do it.

These are the following:
The taste and quality of the eggs is very high.
The chickens appear to be happy and much happier than commercially-reared birds.
A by-product of the chickens is highly nitrogenous  manure which is very useful on the garden.
Happy chickens are amusing to watch.
We like the sounds they make.
Eggs are very easy to sell and most people are very happy to buy them even though they are more expensive than supermarket eggs.
The packaging (egg boxes) can be reused.

Keeping chickens also has a some negative aspects.
These are the following:
A chicken coop does not smell very good albeit for only a fairly small radius.
It would be unfeasible to spend money on vet’s fees for a chickens. If a bird has a health problem such as a prolapsed vent, it would be necessary to kill it humanely. Someone must be willing to do this.
If you raise the chicken from eggs, the male birds must be killed. This could be distressing for vegetarians.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baba Ghanoush Recipe

Baba Ghanoush Recipe

aubergines

Aubergines from the huerto

This baba ghanoush recipe was an excellent remedy for the glut of augergines (egg plants)  that we have in the vegetable garden this August.

INGREDIENTS:
3/4 large aubergines, thickly sliced lengthways
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/3 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of lemon juice
pinch of ground cumin
parsley or other fresh herbs
salt and pepper
tahini (optional)

Salt the aubergines and leave for 30 minutes to remove as much liquid as possible.
Grill the aubergines on a BBQ or griddle pan until soft.
Purée the aubergine in a food processor or mash with a fork.
Mix in the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and the cumin and herbs.
Season with salt and pepper to taste, adding more lemon juice or tahini if needed.
Serve with vegetable batons (carrot, cucumber, celery, etc.), bread or corn chips as a dip.

Baba ghanoush

Baba ghanoush

 

50 litre solar hot water heater for only 71 euros.

Black platic tubes

32mm tubes for solar hot water

 The temperature of our cold water supply is very cold maybe 5C. When this water is mixed into the solar hot water tank it cools the rest of the water down considerably.

We got ripped off for 1200 euros by a company called http://tutiendasolar.com/ (We paid them for a solar hot water system which they were never able to deliver.) So I did not have an appetite to spend any more money.

I realised  that if we could increase the temperature of the water supply it would increase the efficiency of the hot water system.

I bought 100 metres of black 32mm PVC agricultural tubing which can withstand 8 atmopheres for 57 euros. The two brass connectors cost 7 euros each so that brings the total to 71 euros.

To calculate the amount of water in the tube you use this formula.

Length of pipe x Pi x Radius of pipe

In our case:

100m x 3.142 x 1.6cm = 502.72 cc

That is 50 litres.

According to my calculations:
If the water in the tube could get to 38C it would be enough for an  8 minute shower at 6 litres per minute.

Here are some other calculations:

To compare the cost of heating the water in this tube with an electric water heater we need this calculation:
We are heating 50 litres of water by 35C (from 5C to 40C)

The formula I have is imperial:
weight of water in pounds x  temp increase in deg Farenheit /3413 = KWH used by an electric heater.

The metric figures are:
55 kilos = 110 pounds
35C = 95 farenheit

SO
110 x 95/3413 = 3.061822 KWH

The average price of electrity in Spain is  0.19 per KWH
SO
3.061822 x 0.19 = 0.58

Each time the tubes heat enough water to have an 8 minute shower it theoretically saves 58 euro cents.
The supplementary water system will pay for itself after 122 showers.
Let’s assume that there are always 5 people here and they have showers on average 5 times per week. That is  25 showers per week.

This system should pay for itself in about 5 weeks.

According to carbonfund.org the carbon emissions of electricity are :-
0.0005925 metric tons CO2 per kWh

If there are 5 people here having 5 showers per week that is 1300 showers per year
If each shower uses 3.061822 KWH that is 3980 KWH saved per year (or 756 euros)

This means that we theoretically  save 2.35 metric tons of CO2 being emitted per year.

Maybe you can find an error with my figures but it seems that solar water heating makes sense.

See another solar water: How to make a batch water heater