22 October 2008

Experiments with LEDs to get ...l'ambiance parfaite ...

We're sorting out loads of things at the moment. The style of the roof and the heating for the extension, our lighting for winter and designing the electricity runs for the extension.

I went on a bit of a spending spree a couple of weeks ago and amongst other things, I bought several 9 and 5 watt 12v compact fluo lightbulbs and these 36 LED units (In the photo above.) which consume under 2watts each. I know I go a bit about lighting but it's nice to have a lovely warm cosy atmosphere in a house, and good lighting can help a lot.

I bought them from a supplier I've found reliable with good prices and fast service, Energie Douce. I'm a bit disappointed with the blue/white colour of the new LEDs but a red or pink shade over the light will it warm up. I often put a bit of red nail varnish on to LEDs (Which stay quite cool normally) but only for outside the house. I wonder if I should take a chance and try some out on the inside ?

There's not a lot of useful light either and I expected that with LEDs, but I'm still experimenting with how I can use them for background lighting.
I've got a few lovely paintings and interesting corners (Like this one with my "magic egg" collection.) which just disappear once we switch on the main lights in the kitchen. It's a big room, 7x6 metres but feels small and needs more light to open it up.

We do use candles a lot and I love them but we don't like going out for a wander outside in the evening leaving the candles on because our two cats love sitting in window sills and they've singed their tails and knocked over quite a few things on their travels.

Candles also need to be bought and stored and you need to spend time every so often cleaning the holders. I "rewick" them with a tiny bit of cotton wool twisted and pushed into the wax in the holder with a knife then I dribble some wax from a candle on to the little wick, light it and it burns away all the accumulated wax around the edges. Once there's a nice dip, I enthusiastically push in a new candle and often end up squirting the wax on to my computer screen...

20 October 2008

Unbelievable colours of Autumn


The colour in the garden and in the woods around our fields is a real joy to behold at the moment. The main colour is from Virginia creeper which can spread where you don't want it but when it's in the trees and on the gloriette and the pergolas, it's glorious.

I planted a Red Oak near the chicken shed three years ago. It's never done well and I thought it was because of the nitrogen rich soil. We had to cut down a nearby Acacia because it was split in a storm and since that's gone the Oak has really recovered and has now become a beautiful young tree which we can see from the terrace.

This jungle is my potager which is still bursting with things to gather, so I'm a bit busy getting things in and stored before the frost comes. The bottom of the garden is protected by trees and a hedge and feels warmer that up at the house. The weather's still glorious and in this photo taken a few day ago it looks like high summer.

A chicken walks on the path

The borage is still seeding and growing and almost each rose is producing one or two spectacular flowers.

We've still got green peppers and chillis to get in, peas and beans and the celery I grew in the tent frame is really lovely and there's lots of it. We had some tonight with a rabbit Fabrice shot - the second of the season. We still have courgettes and I grew lots of parsley this year, mostly the tasty Italian kind and it's self-seeding everywhere.

I planted pumpkins for the pigs very late in the season after the potatoes and onions and they're producing big healthy looking pumpkins which I have to keep training to go the way I want them to otherwise they send their roots down into the paths.


This is a lovely time of the year and it is nice to just wander around looking and soaking in the atmosphere and richness and look at some of the things we've done. We've got loads of plans and projects on the go and thankfully, we've a lot more energy than we had last year, so it feels as though we'll make a bit of progress again.

The wood's chopped and under cover near the house and the more delicate plants are being moved nearer and nearer to the back of the house where it's warm and protected. The indoor plants are back indoors and seem to appreciate the comfort. Food's stored and the freezer is filling up again with game and we light the fire most evenings - which is really nice.

13 October 2008

Off grid computing

Happy solar batteriesOne of the reasons I haven't been blogging much recently is that my six year old laptop has only a few hundred Mo of RAM so it runs out of memory whenever I try to do anything complicated.

Often, I just give up waiting for action and go and get on with something else - not a bad thing really. ;-)

I did buy a bit more memory (The maximum for my machine.) and took my computer apart to plug it in. (Scary stuff!)

That did do the trick for a few weeks but when I'm in forums, answering e-mails and trying to research something amazing that a friend's just told me about, all it needs is for me to visit one site with a bit of background music or a video and everything comes to a standstill.

I like being able to make do and mend but with computers there's only so far I can DIY, so I've bought a brand new laptop with lots more memory and I'm looking forward to getting to know it better once I get all the electrics and the internet connection sorted out.

People often ask us how we manage our internet connection living off-grid. I cleaned up and emptied out my laptop a few days ago (To let me get on the 'net to buy another one!) and the connection seems to be quite stable, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to write about how we manage our solar and wind energy to have off-grid computing.

Frog on a solar panelAt the moment, we have a very modest 12v renewable energy system which runs on eight 75watt photovoltaic panels and two 75watt Rutland wind generators.

We've bought the panels and wind turbines in stages and decided to keep two separate systems - each one is capable of lighting the whole house, recharge batteries, run small appliances and allows us to get on the internet. Having two systems means that when we can carry out our battery maintenance or add more panels to one system we're never without power. If one system is out of energy we can swop over and at least I'm always sure of being able to send e-mails or recharge torch batteries. I'm pleased to say that neither of the systems of our alternative technology has ever let us down.

DC Converter (12v to 19v) for laptop computer run by solar power 29€
My old laptop needs 19v of direct current (DC) and when laptops run off the mains power they need a transformer to change the alternative current to DC. So instead of using an inverter to change DC to AC to DC, I bought some cheap and cheerful DC current converters like the one in the photograph above for about 29€. This little gadget allows me to step up the DC voltage needed by my laptop and means that I don't waste the precious (especially in the winter!) energy taken up by an inverter while it's switched on. This one has been working well (Despite the dust!) for about three years.

My new computer - like many of the bigger machines on the market - needs more power than the 70watt maximum allowed by the small unit above, so I've been looking for another one. I ordered a unit from Nauticom and it should arrive soon.

300watt inverter runs printer external hard disk etc.I also run my modem from a DC-DC converter but for the other appliances like my external hard disc and my printer (Which I rarely use.) I need an inverter which changes 12v DC to 230 AC. This one cost around 150€.

It's best to use the smallest inverter you can to run equipment because the inverter itself uses a lot of energy, so I opted for a little 300watt one which doesn't take up much room on my desk. I use it with a three plug adaptor so that I can plug in several things at the same time and it too has been working perfectly for a few years. The only thing that drives me mad is all the wires everywhere but I suppose if I want to charge cameras mobile 'phones, batteries and get on the 'net, that's something I'll just have to live with.

I'm really looking forward to getting everything sorted out and finally using my new computer. I wanted to post a photo of the beast, but I don't want to take any chances...;-)

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