I Don’t Need No Gym

I am doing my best to publish at least one article a week on my knife blogge, but I had trouble managing that and I could not write much for Affinity as you might have noticed. The main reason is my huge garden, which kept me occupied for two months almost continuously.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Whilst re-potting my bonsai, I tried this year also to plant new poplar trees in my coppice since the water voles did such a number on them a few years ago. I found an easy way this time to plant them -instead of digging holes, I drilled them with a long carbide-tipped 12 mm masonry drill. It went comparatively easy and fast and after just a few days work I managed to plant several rows of trees. Then came warm weather and everything started to grow, the trees took root and it looked promising. And after that came abnormally deep frost (-5°C) most of the trees died and my work was thus wasted. The frost also killed one of my most beautiful outdoor bonsai trees – my only hornbeam – the roots froze in the bowl. What a beautiful spring start!

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I did manage to get about 2 cubic meters of firewood from my coppice this year, which is good, about a month’s worth of heating right there, with minimal money expenditure. I also cut a lot of dead wood from my apple tree, which is slowly dying from water vole damage. The tree still lives, but only just. The odds are that next year it will all be firewood since it also received additional damage from the late frost. What a beautiful spring start!

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

When planting potatoes this year, I added a lot of charcoal to the soil that I prepared over winter. Then I covered the potatoes with only a thin layer of soil and a thick layer of grass clippings to try at a larger scale the experiment from last year. After that came a short drought and abnormally high winds, which blew the grass away in some parts, and the potatoes froze due to the strong late frost that followed shortly after. About 10 % of the potato patch thus did not sprout at all and another 10% look weak and sickly even now. What a beautiful spring start!

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Here used to be several huge compost heaps. I flattened them out into one huge new patch, which took me several weeks of hard work. I planted pumpkins on there after the strong frost was over. But the weather after that was so cold and miserable that they did not grow at all for about a month and slugs destroyed about half of them despite my best efforts, using both manual and chemical tools at my disposal to kill those buggers. On some evenings I collected as much as about 1kg of slugs from the vegetable patches. This week some of the pumpkins finally started to grow as the night temperatures are over 10°C at last, but some are still tiny and there is a huge question mark over whether I will or will not have any use from all this work at all. What a beautiful spring start!

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

The seeding potatoes were very small and thus there was more of them than I expected. I had to prepare a small new patch near my second greenhouse to plant them. It was a lot of work to haul all that compost there to plant them, but at least these were completely unaffected by the frost and they appear to thrive. Great! When I was at it, I also prepared a second patch, where I planted red beets. Those are still tiny because the weather was so fucking cold overnight that it was on some days in June colder than it was first two weeks in April. I also planted some sweet corn, two packets. One packet did not germinate at all, and the other one produced just several sickly plants that are now still smaller than the grass that I have not mown for a week. Fuck this spring.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I had so many tomato seedlings that I planted over twenty of them outside. Three got immediately mauled to death by slugs. The rest managed to grow tough enough for the slugs no longer trying to eat them but they did not grow any taller – they are positively tiny. Because the nights were so cold. I am curious if we get an extremely hot and dry summer after the extremely wet and cold spring. So, like last year, first nothing grows because it is too cold, and subsequently nothing grows because it is too hot. I hate this year’s weather.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I did not sift the compost heaps but I did at least pick bigger stones manually, as I do all year throughout my vegetable patches. I got several buckets worth. If you remember, I used most of these accumulated stones last year to repair the walking path to my home. Well, I got about 20% of what I used up last year back again. Stones are not a renewable resource, but my garden has a seemingly unlimited supply of them.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

When planting the trees, I hit something hard twice. Once a bigger stone and once a buried brick. And when planting beans and working on the compost heaps I suddenly hit a really large stone, that I subsequently had to dig out. These are big slabs of phyllite that were used as paving stones in the past around here. I have a pile of them both from digging them up in my garden in seemingly random places and from the time when we too had walking paths paved with them, which I replaced with modern concrete paving a few years ago. At least these stones can be useful in the garden, but hitting one with a gardening fork or a shovel is not fun. Neither is hauling them solo onto the wheelbarrow. I procrastinate moving this one for three weeks because I sprained my back with the previous one.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Apart from slugs, grass also thrives in the fucking cold weather. I have to mow it to be able to access all the areas of my garden where I need to work. At least there are no HOAs here so when I want to leave a patch with pretty flowers on it where it does not impede me, I can do that. So I do. Yay for pretty flowers!

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Tomatoes inside the greenhouse do look promising this year. I put a lot of compost and some fertilizer in there in the fall and I mixed it with the soil thoroughly. Inside the greenhouse, the climate was warm enough, albeit possibly too humid. The plants had wet leaves each morning because they had to actively pump out water. I used a chemical spray to prevent Phytophthora infestans. I hope it works because if they do not get sick, they really do look promising. Fingers crossed, I had enough setbacks this year already, and I need some wins.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

The fig trees are growing like mad. I cut them down to about 70-90 cm in height and they are double that already. They were overshadowing the tomatoes and I had to prune them. They put out some fruit already, so I might get some this year too despite the really heavy pruning in early spring. The figs really liked the warm and tepid winter and the greenhouse shielded them from the negative impacts of the cold spring, so they are the only plants that truly thrive. The grapes and pomegranates thrive too, but I did not take pictures of those since I have been ranting long enough already.

Often in the past, I said that I do not need to go to the gym, I get enough workouts in the garden and it is more useful. Well, this year the bad weather and extreme slug infestation are doing their best to make the second part of that statement untrue. At least I don’t have to pay for it. Oh wait, I do pay for it – the molluscicides, fungicides, and seeds…  Well, I might still come out with a profit, but it is not sure. I need at least 150 kg of potatoes to come even. Every other vegetable on top of that would be a bonus. That is not impossible, even with this bad start of the year.

Going electric


As you all know, our old diesel has rather dramatically given up the ghost. Now, we knew the car was old and had thankfully already been looking into a replacement, though we’d hoped to do it by the end of the year after paying off the solar panels. Well, that didn’t quite work out, but it meant that we had already looked into new cars and decided on a model. We wanted an electric one, as it makes no sense to buy a conventional one now that will rapidly lose all resale value once electric cars dominate the market, and we sure as hell didn’t want a used one where you never knew when it would break down. Given that it needs to be able to pull our caravan and that the traditional European car manufacturers have stalled on developing electric cars, this left us either with the premium brands that are well outside of our price range and that use the electricity equivalent of a small town or the Kia EV6 and we were lucky to get one on short notice.

Now I know that cars are bad. Even electric cars. And I wished I lived in a world where I didn’t need one, or where we could get by with one car instead of two, but it’s not this world. I’d love to get there, but until that day, I need to eat and therefore work and that means driving a car. But an electric car is an improvement (especially when powered by renewable energy) and it really drives home the absurdity of conventional fuel powered cars in terms of energy consumption.

One big issue with all energy consumption is energy efficiency: How much of my energy consumption is actually used to produce the desired result. We all remember the old lightbulbs that produced 85% heat and 15% light. Modern petrol powered cars get about 40% movement. The rest is heat. When you apply the breaks, you turn more kinetic energy into heat. An electric car gets that up to 80%. Recuperation means that when you slow down, your battery charges. In case that you need to break (I hardly break anymore), your battery charges. My old car that Mr has now used 6 l /100 km super with my careful driving. My same careful driving now uses 15 kWh/100. This means that my commute already needs more energy than all household appliances together! But it gets worse: 1l super is the equivalent of 8.4 kWh, so the old car needed the equivalent of 50kWh. It gets even worse: Every litre of fuel that you put into your car has already used another litre of fuel in production and transport, so the 50kWh turn into 100kWh. Creating a car centric world was really one of the worst things we could do.

Ehm, Akshually Hrdlička…

The WaPo pieces mentioned by PZ about Aleš Hrdlička are damning. I cannot comment on their veracity since I do not have access to the evidence those articles are based on, however, there is no reason to doubt them, not really. His appalling ghoulish behavior is consistent with the time in which he lived, unfortunately. He was representing the rule, not the exception. What I find curious is that with all the illicitly amassed evidence, he almost, but not entirely arrived at the correct conclusion (emphasis mine):

“In 1898, Hrdlicka published a study of 908 White children and 192 Black children at the New York Juvenile Asylum and the Colored Orphan Asylum in New York. He measured and compared their body parts, including genitals. He wrote that “inferiorities” in the children were probably the result of neglect or malnutrition, not hereditary. But he noted “remarkable” physical differences based on race.”


So he did not find any inherent differences between the races that were more than superficial physical characteristics, like skin color, hair texture, etc. Yet he still persisted in holding racist views, which makes him a bad scientist – even if one were to wave away the immoral way in which he gathered data by stealing human remains (which I am not inclined to do so, although it appears to be standard for anthropologists of the time) he still has done shit science with it.

When I read PZ’s first article, I immediately looked up Hrdlička. I do not remember ever learning about him at the university, I studied biology, chemistry, arts, and psychology, not anthropology. He might have been mentioned at some point in biology, but the name definitively did not ring any bells.

And when I looked him up, all Czech sources that I could find online in the little time I was willing to give venerated him as a staunch anti-racist, in direct contradiction to the articles in Washington Post. I think this is for several reasons.

Firstly, we Czechs do suffer from a “small nation inferiority syndrome”. We feel so insignificant and ignored on the world stage that we latch onto any success achieved by any of our compatriots abroad and we are unwilling to let go. I think that it will take years, if not decades, for the true ghoulish nature of his research and his racist views to find their way into Czech media, and there will be a lot of resistance.

Secondly, I doubt that any Czech sources have had ready access to the same evidence that WaPo was using. There are inevitable limits to what can be learned about any Czech individual who lived most of their life outside of Bohemia, even if one were not inclined to ignore unfavorable evidence and overstate anything positive due to the first point.

And thirdly, it seems he was kinda anti-racist, just in a wrong, racist anti-racist way. From what I was able to find he did fight against anti-slavic racism. This is real racism and it still exists today – its latest consequential demonstration was Brexit, which was in part motivated by racism against Polish and Czech immigrants. The sentiment nowadays is not as prevalent and strong as it used to be, but there were times when the Slavs (and the Irish and probably some other nationalities) were not considered “white” in the same way as Anglo-Saxons and/or Aryans and were seen to be inferior. Apparently, Hrdlička was arguing – correctly – that all European people have common origins and he argued that they belong to the same racial group. The anti-racism bit was thus arguing against the discrimination of Slavs, and the racist bit was that he did not argue that all people are equal but that Slavs in fact are part of the “superior” race. This kind of reasoning makes his legacy even more susceptible to being spun positively if one has the bias mentioned in the first point, not to mention that there still is a lot of Czechs who argue the same.

However, I also peeked at the discussion under the WaPo article and I noticed in there one “anti-Hrdlička” argument that I strongly disagree with. Apparently, he was one of the proponents of the theory that humans arrived in the Americas via the Bering Strait Land Bridge and this theory was called “racist” and “bogus” by one of the commenters. That, to my mind, is nonsense.

Even if Hrdlička was proposing the theory for some racist reasons, that does not make the theory automatically wrong. And to my knowledge (which I admit is not completely up-to-date with modern science) there is a lot of evidence that at least some of the ancestors of North American Indians really did cross Beringia into the Americas. This includes studies of genetic markers of extant populations.

It is absolutely indisputable that Homo sapiens originated in Africa and spread from there to all the other continents in multiple migration waves. It might be that there was more than one migration wave to the Americas and it might be that some of those migration waves did not come over Beringia but sailed from Polynesia. It also might be true that humans arrived in the Americas much sooner than previously thought. But some very probably did arrive through Beringia no matter what other migration routes might have been taken. And as much as I think that Native American cultures, languages, and creation myths are just as worthy of preserving and studying as any others, they do not constitute hard evidence for how humans got to the Americas, because humans are just too good at making shit up and then believing it – even today people make nonsense theories whole cloth and believe them despite the evidence contrary, after all.

And there is simply too much other evidence that multiple migrations through Beringia happened, for both animals and plants. Just a few examples:

Bison and Wisents are so closely related that they still interbreed and produce fertile offspring despite being different species. The bovids, incidentally, originated in Africa too. American Grizzly is still the same species as the European Brown Bear. North American and Eurasian willows create a near continuum of hybridizing taxa that are a nightmare mess to untangle. Junipers on both continents are very similar to each other in appearance. And Juniperus communis is actually a circumpolar species. And a personal anecdote to underline the point – the flora of North America and Eurasia are so closely related and eerily reminiscent of each other that when I was in the USA, I confused native Heracleum maximum for invasive Heracleum mantegazzianum they are so similar. (edit – corrected accidentally swapped species)

This similarity between the ecosystems of North America and Eurasia, which is not present between any other two continents, is the biggest proof that there were easy-ish ways to migrate between the two in the not-so-distant (geologically and evolutionary-speaking) past. Saying that the theory that people migrated to North America this way is racist and somehow disproven because of it thus seems foolish to me.

It might not be complete, but no theory truly is, science is about refining our knowledge by finding things, not about having complete and inconvertible “truths” by fiat.

Froot Seezun Continues

Last week I finished with strawberries. I spent two-three hours working on them for a day for nearly two weeks and in the end, I harvested over 30 kg. 22 kg I managed to dry, and the rest converted my mom into marmalade (-> cellar), pies (->freezer) and puddings  (->immediate consumption). And just as soon as the strawberry season has ended, the raspberry season has started.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

There is a huge patch of wild raspberries just outside my garden. My neighbor cannot mow the meadow this close to the fence, so they thrive on a strip of land approx 1 m wide. And the law in CZ is that wild fruit on publically accessible land can be picked by anyone, so I can use it – I just need to go out of my garden and walk all the way around, about 100 m. Last year we did not have any because I took a chainsaw to the whole growth to rejuvenate it – which it did.

Since these are wild raspberries that grew there from seeds some decades ago, the fruits are relatively small. They are even smaller due to seven consecutive drought years, but they are still tasty and I managed to pick over 600 g yesterday in just half an hour. I will pick a few kg over the next few days, try to dry some, and make others into jam since we run out of raspberry jam some years ago.

And to post something pleasing to the eye after a long while, the first sunflower of the year has blossomed.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

It is not particularly big sunflower, in part due to the drought and in part because I did not buy F1 seeds this year and I simply planted some of the surplus seeds that I fed to the birds during the winter. But it is pretty and the sunflower patch looks promising.

Are Childproof Container Caps Worth the Price?

We have 6 still functioning soap dispensers in a cupboard and we refill the three that we use.  Although the refill packages sold in supermarkets around here cost about the same as soap with a new dispenser. And they are only twice as big as a dispenser anyway, so not many people buy them. Thus, supermarkets do not have them in stock sometimes. They do have the dispensers though, all the time, full shelves. Luckily my mother found an online shop that sells big 5 l canisters of liquid soap which lasts us a year and we can reduce the amount of plastic we use by an infinitesimal amount. And since I cut myself at work rather badly yesterday, all I can do is think and I went down a rabbit hole of thought that I shall elaborate on now in this post a bit.

On each supermarket shelf around here, one can see several different spray bottles of window cleaners of multiple shapes and sizes, although with just a few discrete volumes. The same goes for soap dispensers, disinfectants, antifungals, toilet cleaners, etc. Each brand that sells 0,5 l or 1 l of some liquid has its own unique bottle shape, its own unique plastic wrap around it, and its own unique cap. And sometimes those caps are made in a way that allegedly prevents children from accidentally opening them but in reality, give more grief to people with a hand injury like me right now or to elderly people with arthritis like my mother than to any child old enough to reach an upper shelf in the bathroom.

Those safety lids are a special pet peeve of mine. I was cleaning the shower the other day and I wanted to rinse the bottle of disinfectant before tossing it. And I found again what I have forgotten – the spray bottle is deliberately made so that the lid cannot be unscrewed. Why? I do not know. I do not know anyone who knows anyone whose child imbibed a disinfectant or window cleaner from a spray bottle. I have read about some such cases in the news with regard to bottled dish cleaners, but those are still sold without the safety lids and none of the kids was severely hurt! However, I did read several cases about adults imbibing some seriously dangerous liquids (like lye) with sometimes lethal consequences because they themselves put them in soda bottles and did not label them properly. In my personal opinion, these “safety” lids have one purpose only – to make the item single-use. They may save one life in a million or so, but they definitively increase plastic pollution by an order of magnitude, and the lives that cost cannot be easily quantified.

Do we really need 10 different shapes of a bottle for a disinfectant that gets poured into the toilet? Is that what the famous “customer choice”  is about? In my opinion, the choice should be about what is in the bottle and how well it works.

And this got me thinking, could all this be avoided? In my opinion yes. But it has to be done from the top down by a legislative action that forces the corporations to behave. Because as the hard-to-get refill packages for soap dispensers demonstrate, personal action does not work.

So if I were the Supreme Leader of the EU, here is my proposal for how it could be done:

  1. Standardise spray bottles and soap dispensers etc into just 1 container for each used volume. Make the bottles refillable by law. Material is either stainless steel for the more corrosive liquids, aluminum for the less corrosive, and glass for the stationary dispensers. All these three materials are easy to recycle and there is an extensive infrastructure to do so already. Labeling must be printed on paper, not plastic, and can be the only brand-specific thing. The purchasing costs of the dispensers would be bigger, but they would last a lot longer, orders of magnitude longer.
  2. Standardise refill containers in just a few volumes too and make it compulsory to have them on sale in greater amounts than the dispensers/sprays bottles etc. The material should be either PP or PET, undyed, and without fillers. Standardized containers could be, with some tweaking of infrastructure, re-used several times before they would need to be scrapped. And both PP and PET can be recycled several times before they degrade even if the reuse were implausible or impractical. And 1 5 l container uses less plastic than 5 1 l bottles. Labeling again printed on paper and the only brand-specific thing.
  3. If the caps need to be chid-proof and/or single-use for some products, they still can. Even if made from non-recyclable plastic, at this point it would be negligible when compared to what we have now. But I am not convinced this is more useful than, say, an education campaign to teach parents to keep dangerous things out of their kid’s reach.

Apart from the obvious way this would reduce the amount of plastic pollution, there are other ways this would help to reduce the carbon emission of the whole industry. Standardized containers would mean less demand for steel molds. One machine producing 10 identical refill bottles at a time consumes less energy and has a smaller footprint (both area and CO2)  than 10 machines making 10 distinct, brand-specific bottles in 10 smaller molds. Transport costs would also be lower than now because those bottles are even now, the liquid manufacturers often do not make those themselves, they buy them from specialists. And standardized bottles could mean better optimization of distribution delivery routes among different manufacturers.

Oh, and the same thing could be done for soda, and liquor bottles.

Would it work? I think it would. After all, most of this is already done for beer and soda cans and beer bottles so why not for Hi Ginny?

Frog Chillin’

Today I was watering bonsai trees in my bonsai hospital (where my last Japanese maple tree already probably succumbed to the heatwave). I am using the water from the pond at the end of my sewage cleaning facility for that. And this is the sight that greeted me today.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Every day when I come there I hear several splashes as the frogs sitting around the edges of the pool jump into the water when I disturb them. Today I got lucky and this one was just chilling in the water and did not scamper until I plunged my watering can into the water.

I take this as a sign that my sewage cleaning facility works well, despite the official tests coming just on the edge with regard to ammonia content. I haven’t seen any tadpoles, unfortunately, but I do have happy frogs every year, plenty of dragonfly larvae and water beetles, an occasional water mollusk, and as you can see, the water is so clear that one can see right down to the bottom of the pond. It will get a bit worse in the fall when the trees shed leaves, especially the walnut tree, but that has nothing to do with the sewage cleaning efficacy.

Fig Season Starts

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I picked over 800 g of fresh figs today. It is figs and yogurt for dinner tonight. Eating them all before they spoil will be challenging – this variety is supposed to be eaten fresh and these first ones are extremely sweet. It never ceases to amaze me that I can harvest figs in my garden.

Greening the Balcony – Part 1

Guest post by Avalus. I am looking forward to the continuation(s) and once again I render my robe and put ashes on my head, this should go up a month ago.

A new project by me, Avalus. I use my balcony each year to grow veggies and some flowers, but I never thought about sharing this. Charly encouraged me to do so, so thank you very much for this opportunity! Similar to Full Fish Ahead, this will be some poorly held together train of thought with many pictures that will be written at random intervals and you all hopefully find interesting and worth your time reading. Comments are very welcome, as I learn something new every year I change my balcony in a lush green jungle (or in 2018, more like a dry brown savannah). Also, I hope to inspire people to green up their spaces, if they can!

So, this is my balcony, roughly 2 by 5 meters, facing south on the lofty hight of seventh floor and as of now, already pretty full of plants!

© avalus, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© avalus, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

But how did I get there?

I started in late winter and early spring with the pregrowing the slower plants. Tomates and peppers mostly but also some older seeds that I expected would not germinate anymore were put in the earth*. For pregrowth I use these 2 old fishtanks that I got from a garbage pile, the seeds are planted in egg cartons and some leftover paper pots, as soil I use cocosshell soil. This foto is from late march, you can also see a sprouting avocado and a taro plant grown from a leftover from cooking.

© avalus, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

*That is why there are some beans growing on the right. Also, the old cucumber seeds just took some four weeks to germinate, in between I bought new ones and they just took four days and now my friends with gardens and family will get gifts of cucumber plants. XD

From last year, a broccoli and two romanesco plants have endured the winter. I thought about tearing them out but then they began to bloom and instantly attracted pollinators, so they stay and I decided to side the broccoli with pansies. Later, this one will be used as a support for peas, that I planted around it.

© avalus, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© avalus, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Then, in early April I got to work cleaning the old pots out. I kept about half of the soil but mixed it topped it off with newly bought earth. For that I use peat-free planting soil although one really needs to look at the content table, as I found out a few years ago. And in the past years, this was also more expensive but this year they did cost the same. All hauling was done from a local garden centre with a hand drawn trolley, which was exhausting as I needed some 240 litres and I don’t own a car. If I lived somewhere else or was not as able bodied this would be a major problem and I would definitively need the help of friends.

© avalus, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

My main growbeds are these half transparent outdoor boxes, I bought some six years ago in a large hardware store. They are mostly in the shade and have held up wonderfully. The lowest 5 cm are filled with porous ceramic balls to store water, on the backside I drilled a line of small holes at 10 cm as an overflow.

© avalus, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Others are just large planting pots, buckets or plain balcony boxes and we will see more of them later this year.

Now, at the start of May, the tomatoes are finally gaining strength, as do the mangolds and the cucumbers. Both of which I apparently did not photograph in their boxes. Planting all of these will have wait though until the ice-saints, a series of days around 15th of May, where temperatures might fall deep here in central Germany. Most of the tomatoes will be given away as well, I will just keep nine of them, as that is usually enough to satisfy my tomatic needs.

© avalus, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

So, what will I grow? Tomatoes, peppers, aubergine, cucumbers, strawberries, lettuce, carrots, radishes, beans, onions, garlic, peas, sweet potatoes and potatoes along with a load of different herbs and some flowers for the bumbles and the bees like tagetes, sunflowers and calendula. From th last years there is Indian canna and lavender. This sounds like a heck of a lot, but the last years showed that with the right combinations these plants work well under the conditions of my balcony in summer. Over the months there will be changes as plants ripen and get collected and replacements will be seeded, grown and planted.

Why do I do it? This is of course not enough to sustain me by a long margin, but I very much do enjoy having plants around me and growing at least a bit of sustenance. It also helps me to appreciate much work goes into farming at least a little more. I cannot collect my own rainwater and the soil is bought, so there are some environmental impacts, of course, even if I try to minimize them. All in all, it just makes me very happy to eat my own grown food and gaze upon thriving plants.

And to finish this instalment, here sprout the first beans, nasturtiums and peas!

© avalus, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Happy planting, everyone!

Preparing for the Next Winter Already

Since that major asshole Vladolf Putler had nothing better to do than to wage an imperialistic war of conquest, the prices of firewood and wooden briquettes have skyrocketed here, together with delivery times being months and not weeks. Because some governments within the EU decided – irrationally and daftily – to oppose nuclear energy and moved to burn Russian gas (and sometimes even low-quality coal, destroying in the process more area than Fukushima did) and now that supply is threatened, people are looking for alternatives. We could already have a mix of nuclear and renewables if it were not for supposedly green parties being so staunchly not green… Where was I? Firewood. People are stockpiling firewood now if they can.

Thus, my grudges aside, I have a problem. I normally keep a stockpile for two years, but my mother’s health deteriorated significantly and I had to heat the house more than before for her comfort. So now I do not need to buy a year’s worth of wood just to top up my stockpile, I need to buy it to not freeze in the winter because I only have about two months worth left.

I have ordered wooden briquettes, at an exorbitant, 50% higher price than last year, but I do not know when they arrive. If they arrive. But I got lucky, one of the suppliers from whom I was buying in the past had firewood at still a very reasonable price. Here it is, delivered today:

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

From the picture it may be apparent why it is so cheap – not very many people are willing to buy this, apparently. These are offcuts from making palettes and thus it is lotsaf tiny pieces of wood with occasional bigger pieces of board or a squared timber. It is a lot of work to sort it out into some usable form. Today I have spent six hours working on it and the results are eleven bags of tiny offcuts and approx 1 cubic meter of bigger boards, together ca 500 kg.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Two bags = one-day heating on average over the whole season.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

If I estimate it correctly, today’s work was 1/8 to 1/10 of the total, so I should have about 4 to 5 tonnes of firewood. That should see us through the winter even if the briquettes never arrive. But it is a lot of work, I will now spend at least a week sifting through this mass daily and then during winter, I will have to carry it into the cellar in baskets (now I am keeping the cellar empty in the hope of getting the briquettes, and anyway this is twice the volume of briquettes and thus would not fit in there). It is cheap, but for a price – essentially I have to take each piece of wood three-four times in my hands.

Before the firewood arrived, I was sorting through my stockpile of wood for crafting, cutting out usable bits, and bagging everything else as firewood, a task that I will continue doing after this lot is sorted out. I also had a tiny wood inspector. I do hope that cherry log is not full of holes.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Going Solar

Our latest home improvement project has finally come to life and our new solar panels are online. This has mostly been Mr’s project. Not because I’m opposed to solar energy, but because I have zero time for researching, calculating and shopping for it. It took about a year from start to finish, and I won’t bore you with all the small and big  problems with banmks what waht have you not and present you our own small energy centre.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Here you have a screenshot of that shows the energy use and production of our “power plant”. The image has 4 circles representing the different components, the middle circle represents the ac/dc converter. The top left corner shows you the current energy production. We have a maximum of 7.1 kwh, what you see here is 717 W, light clouds. The top right corner is the current energy use in the house. The bottom right corner is our battery. It has a maximum of 7 kwh, but it always tries to stay at 25% full in case of emergencies. Bottom left ist the interaction with the power grid. The dots going to the middle show you how much energy is going which way. All in all we’re currently very fascinated by the app. I guess this will wear off in a few weeks, but currently I keep checking it constantly.

One of the niftier components of the whole thing is a little (expensive) gadget that allows us to keep producing energy when the grid is down. With a normal solar plant, when the grid is down, your solar gets shut off. That’s sensible because you cannot safely repair a power line while thousands of roofs keep sending voltage. In our case, should the energy company send the signal tu turn off, our unit becomes its own closed circuit. Since experts have already predicted power outages to become more common, that seems like a sensible investment.

As you can see, our goal is to produce as much of our own energy as possible and I must say, for February it’s been good so far. One thing is that we do need to change our habits and try to use the electricity when it’s being produced, because I basically lose 8ct on every kwh I have to sell to the energy company. Years ago, before batteries were affordable, solar mostly went into the power grid and people got guaranteed high prices, making it a good investment. Friends of ours needed a new roof and didn’t know how to pay for it when the roofer told them that putting up solar would pay for itself and the roof. Those subsidies had their own problems, as they mostly benefited home owners and were paid by renters, but they led to a thriving solar industry. then those subsidies were cut, 100k jobs in solar were lost, and people stopped putting up new solar panels. Because if I calculate the cost of the whole thing and divide it through the expected kwh that it will produce, a kwh costs me 15ct while I get 7. But if I have to buy a kwh, I pay around 30ct, so I save 15 by using one that I produce myself.

Paradoxically, this has led to me occasionally using more energy on purpose, like today. It was a fairly sunny day and we produced 11 kwh, not bad for a day in February, which is about our daily use as well, but of course we don’t produce it evenly spread, so when I came home this afternoon, I put on the dishwasher on the high energy short cycle that only takes an hour. Because then the sun was shining, the battery was full, and I was selling my energy cheap. But if I  put it on the low energy long cycle, that would take 4 hours, meaning that I would have to rely on the battery for the later half of the cycle, draining it faster and making me buy energy tonight/tomorrow morning, which is a perfect example of something that is the perfectly logical and sensible decision for one person being a negative for society as a whole, but I’m not going to feel bad about it.

Personal (Distr)Action Against Climate Change

I did donate to TeamTrees when it was doing the rounds on YouTube but I have ignored TeamSeas completely as pointless. I will continue to ignore future attempts to extract money from me to save the environment too, except in the case of rare natural disasters that need an acute response.

We all have probably seen campaigns urging us to do this and that to reduce our carbon footprint. Go Vegan. Meatless Mondays. Walk instead of driving. Plant a tree. Etc.

Well, I have been using public transport for most of my life until I was 30 years old but it was driving a car that has allowed me to cut my personal carbon footprint significantly. Why? How? And why it does not matter in the Grand Scheme of Things?

Driving a car has allowed me to get a significantly better-paid job in a destination where public transport just did not go at times that would allow me to have reasonable working times, even with a very lax and flexible working schedule. And while initially using fossil fuels for driving did of course increase my personal carbon footprint temporarily (and minusculy), the extra money that I have earned has allowed me to do things that I would never ever be able to do on my previous pay. I was able to replace old leaky windows in my house. I was able to insulate and renovate the facade and the roof. I was able to overhaul the central heating system. In a few years, the biggest contributor to our carbon footprint – burning coal for winter heating – was reduced to less than one-third. From burning through 10 metric tonnes of coal and being cold all the time we went down to 3 tonnes and having constant-ish temperature throughout the day whilst more than handily offsetting the 100 700 l of gasoline that I have burned on commute per year.

I did not stop there and I made another overhaul to my central heating, converting it to a high-efficiency wood-burning stove. Wood is not always a renewable resource, but I do grow 5-10% of it in a truly renewable fashion on my own land and it would be much more by now if it were not for the blasted water voles who keep destroying my trees planted in the coppice. My health does not allow me to go vegan and my finances are no longer so good that I could put solar panels on my roof, but I do not think that it matters anymore (for the environment) for the same reason that none of my personal actions so far mattered.

I was able to significantly reduce my personal carbon footprint because I have in many aspects fairly privileged life. I own a house with a huge garden, in the country, where I am free to use the land as I please (within reasonable limits). A person living in an apartment in a big city, or even a person owning a house in the suburbs, does not have the same range of choices that I had, or even might not have any choice at all. Thus most people here are stuck with heating their homes with fossil fuels and using electricity from the grid that mostly relies on fossil fuels. Meatless Mondays, planting dozens of trees, or even going full vegan and cycling everywhere will do diddly squat to their carbon footprint, as will literally any other thing they personally can do within the limits given to them by their life circumstances. Not to mention that it is possible to grow meat in a carbon-neutral (and in some places for a limited time even carbon-negative) way.

I view the calls for personal action as a distraction and I am cynical enough that I would not be surprised if at least some of these campaigns were covertly financed by fossil fuels interests. Trying to convince a large number of people to significantly change their lives on their own does not work, because many simply cannot do it no matter how right or righteous the cause is. Trying to convince everyone to go vegan is an exercise in futility, but it might help to associate people advocating for green policies with fringe, unreasonable ideas. A red herring, throwing the public of the scent and putting the guilt on people instead of the corporations and moneyed interests.

However, that does not mean that nobody should take any personal steps to reduce their carbon footprint. Everyone should still do that. If going vegan works for you, go for it. If you can cycle to work, great. I won’t dissuade anyone from doing what little they can to help.

But public campaigns must focus on the only thing that matters in the Grand Scheme of Things – changing policies in a way that makes the polluting of our planet, including CO2 emissions, unprofitable. Without that, nothing you or I do will do diddly.

Midsummer Afternoon – Part 1 – Visit to Harakka Island

Guest posts by Ice Swimmer

It was a hot afternoon just after Midsummer. I went to downtown Helsinki to take some photos.

In the first photo, you can see a jackdaw walking at the Market Square tram stop. I took the picture while waiting for the tram.

A jackdaw walks by © Ice Swimmer, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

The second photo is an “aerial photo” of a family of mute swans, two adults,

and five little cygnets. I’m on the shore end of the pier, from which the boat to Harakka picks up passengers.

I think the leftmost cygnet has some Cladophora around the base of the neck, at least I’m hoping it’s that and not plastic (I noticed the green stuff when looking at the edited photo). The green algae, which has a Finnish name ahdinparta, beard (parta) of the old Finnish god of the sea Ahti, is rather ubiquitous in shallow waters here and there’s a lot of it on the underwater stones in the picture.

Swan family dinner. © Ice Swimmer, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I took the boat to Harakka. The digitalis was in bloom and there were wild strawberries. It could be that when the Imperial Russian army was using the island before Finnish independence, they planted strawberries and other berries, as I’ve heard stories that it was their way to prevent the soldiers in fortress islands from having scurvy.

Digitalis and strategical strawberries.  © Ice Swimmer, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

This red-leaved rose was growing in a forested area on Harakka. I like how simple and unpretentious it looks.

Red-leaved rose with green leaves. © Ice Swimmer, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Most of Harakka is ruled by dinosaurs in the summer. This gull seemed to be above any ergonomic considerations.

Common gull forming an animal puddle. © Ice Swimmer, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

My visit to Harakka was cut a bit short by the low battery charge level of my phone. I had neglected to take an emergency charger (“sähköpossu”/”electricity piggybank” as I like to call them) with me.

Having come back to the mainland from Harakka, I saw these crows on a sign (warning about the underwater cable AFAIR) on the pier. They were “singing”. There’s a Finnish saying “Äänellään se variskin laulaa.”, which could be translated as: “Even the crow will sing with its own voice.”

Crows singing with their own voices. © Ice Swimmer, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I did take more than these pictures on Harakka and there could be material for further posts.

The USA are burning, Germany is drowning

Well, how to write this post? First and foremost: I’m fine, in case anybody was worried, I thankfully live about 100 to 300km away from where this is happening. I don’t know about or other German regulars. If you see this, please check in.

Maybe you heard it on the news, but the Southwest of Germany is currently experiencing extreme flooding. So extreme that even the climate scientists who expected something like this to happen are shocked by its scale. The effects are dramatic. There are over 100 confirmed deaths so far, with thousands still being unaccounted for, though authorities are hoping that they’ve been merely cut off.

The worst happened in two states: Rhineland Palatine and Northrhine Westphalia. In Rhineland Palatine the river Ahr, usually a small meandering river that runs between vinyards, has swollen dramatically. The catastrophe there isn’t a result of sealing large parts of the ground or straightening the river. That region is usually one of those brother Grimm fairy tale landscapes: middle high mountains with wine on the slopes, forests ion the heights, a castle at the top, and a nice medieval town in the valley. After weeks and weeks of heavy rain, the ground was soaked and couldn’t take any water anymore. It all rushed down into the Ahr. And now there are places that basically no longer extist.

Description: muddy brown water with half a bridge. The other half has been destroyed .

Description: Pictures of the town Dernau. You can see the muddy brown water in the whole town.

In Northrhine Westphalia it was flooded dams that could no longer hold the water. They tried to prevent the worst by causing smaller floods beforehand, but no avail. The Wupper, usually a small river, flooded town and completely destroyed neighbourhoods.

Description: cars buried to the windshield in rubble and water

I’ll spare you my thoughts on our politicians, climate change and so on. I’m preaching to the choir anyway.