Friday, 29 December 2017

Annual Spending Review - 2017

Here's the annual look back at where all the money went during the year.  A flurry of snow this morning put paid to plans for a final round of golf in 2017, and so I'm now unlikely to spend anything more until 2018 ... 

click on the graphic for a larger image ...

As usual, the columns are ranked highest-to-lowest from left-to-right, based on the 2017 spending, and include the equivalent 2016 and 2015 spends alongside, for comparison.   

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Brief Garden Review - in Pictures

one of the young pear trees - lots of
blossom but didn't set any fruit ....

tulips in the new bed ...

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Investment Review - September 2017

Here's the combined portfolio spreadsheet as updated on Friday 29 September, the last business day of the third quarter :- 

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Time to order specialist seeds for 2018 ?

Late summer might not seem the time that thoughts should turn to seed sowing and propagation, but if you want to grow any out-of-the-ordinary species next year it may be time to order the seeds now.

There's nothing more frustrating in early spring to find those exotic seeds you've just received come with growing instructions that require them to be 'stratified' for several months to break dormancy.   

This usually means a long period of refrigeration to fool them into thinking they've been through a cold winter, so they'll be ready to burst into life when you eventually put them into warm soil.  

Some may even need an initial warm spell before they experience the cold, and then they'll germinate in the warmth again next year - in this case, first keep them somewhere warm in the house for a few months before popping them in the fridge.

If you leave the seed ordering until next year, it means they may not be ready for sowing for a long time, and then it could take a couple of months afterwards before they even germinate, so you've effectively lost a whole growing season.  Any seedlings sown later in the year might also not have enough time to become properly established before the cold weather arrives, which could easily kill them off.

So get thinking now about those trees, shrubs and palms etc you want to start off next year, research their propagation requirements on the internet and if necessary order the seeds soon.   

When you receive them they can go into the fridge over the winter, you can forget about them for six months and they'll be ready to sow indoors early next year.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Investment Review - June 2017

Here's the spreadsheet for the combined portfolio as updated on Friday 30 June :-

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Hedging our bets ...

Our mixed native hedge on the western boundary, planted in early 2013, is maturing very nicely and is now a high, dense barrier.   

There's only one problem - it's deciduous so we only have a full privacy screen from May to the end of October.

So we decided to supplement it with a parallel evergreen screen, by trimming the existing hedge back to half its thickness and then planting another hedge in front of it, i.e. on the eastern side.   The plan is that eventually the existing hedge will be totally hidden by the new evergreen hedge. 

Of course, the best time to have planted an evergreen hedge would have been four years ago, but we didn't and so the next best time is right now ...

We're a little unsure of how well a new hedge will grow in this position, but reckon that early summer is the best time to try - there's still a good five months of growing season ahead this year - and in any event if it fails to take then we've still got the deciduous hedge so we'll be no worse off than we are now.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Half-barrel Planter for our Palm Tree...

We've quite a large Trachycarpus Fortunei palm which used to reside in a ceramic planter, but the roots had outgrown the space and it had become potbound.  In addition, the planter was not very wide at the base, with the result that the palm would frequently blow over in strong winds.

To give the roots more room to grow, and to provide a much more stable platform against high winds, we decided to put the palm into a half barrel.

The local garden centre sells old oak half barrels for £25, but I found an old knackered one for a fiver that had been used as a mini-pond for goldfish.   

as purchased ...

The bottom of the barrel was hanging out and needed refitting and some reinforcement, but the rest of the treatment we gave the barrel we would also have done even if we'd bought one in better condition.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Converting an old Pine Bedstead to an Electric Bed ...

We have a very solid old pine bed frame, 1,500 mm (5') wide which in the UK is generally called 'kingsize' although in the US I believe it would be a queen.

For various health & comfort reasons, we were looking at replacing it with an electric bed of the same size, with independently adjustable mechanisms, i.e. basically two 2' 6" frames fixed side-by-side.  Such beds are common enough these days and readily available to buy new, and they start at around £600 and go on all the way up to several thousand.  

However, we couldn't find a suitable version with an open base that stands well clear of the floor on four legs in the same way our existing bed does, and which allows us to store all sorts of crap under there.   In addition, all the other furniture in the bedroom is quite substantial and also made from pine, so a modern lightweight fabric-covered bed base just wouldn't feel right in there.

Therefore, I decided to convert our own pine bedstead to electrically-adjustable operation rather than buying a new bed version in a different style.  

There are one or two European vendors I found that sell the articulating slatted assemblies on their own, complete with the actuators and controllers etc but without the rest of the bed frame.   One place stocks them at around £225 each ex-VAT, i.e. £590 in total including £50 delivery.  Allowing £150 each for two new mattresses would have brought the total to around £900, so still around the price of a new mid-range version.

However, I managed instead to find a used electric bed base to use as a 'donor' for the conversion, at £225.  By stripping the mechanisms off this old bed base, we would save nearly four hundred quid.

the donor bed delivered ...

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Fig Tree Planter ...

We've a south-facing sun trap formed by the kitchen wall, garage extension, and the eastern boundary fence with our neighbours.

On this small area, we've astroturf laid down on top of the concrete and this is where we've placed our palm trees and other hardy 'exotics'.

To add to the Mediterranean flavour, we've decided to grow a fig tree and so I set about making a planter with an integral trellis.

After playing around with several designs, we decided which one we wanted to go with and then out came the cut-off saw and a batch of our hardwood slats.

Construction was quite straightforward.  We made the trellis fan first, the lower part of which also ties into the back wall of the planter.

forming the fan ...

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Financial Planning - 2017 Annual Review

I've now been following our Grand Plan for four years, and here's the annual progress update on the anniversary date of 31 March 2017.

Firstly, the usual pair of graphs of Actuals v Targets :-


As usual, click on the images for a larger version.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Lawnmower Deck Repair ...

Late last week, I gave the lawns a first cut of the year.  It should have been done three or four weeks ago, the grass was long enough then and the weather not bad, but I hadn't managed to get around to it.

We've an old self-propelled petrol-engined mower, which makes the job very easy.   

It's lost its brand decals, but it probably came from one of the big DIY chains originally.  We'd bought it secondhand around six years ago, and in that time I've made several minor repairs including reconstructing the lever mechanism that controls the cut height and rebuilding the self-propel clutch, but generally it's been a great machine and starts first time every time even after standing unused over the winter months.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Investment Review - March 2017

Here's the spreadsheet summary for the combined portfolio as updated on 31 March 2017.

(click for a larger image)

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Making a Garden Drinks Table ...

There was an advert on eBay from a local joiners yard who were selling off 1,828 x 31 x 17 mm wooden slats (6' x 1.1/4" x 5/8"), in a mixture of soft and hardwoods, at only £2 for a batch of ten.

I drove down to the yard and the guy showed me racks upon racks holding thousands of these slats inside an old barn, all brand new.  Apparently, they used to use them for making 6' high fencing panels, but they now use a larger section and so these were all redundant.

He left me to my own devices to pull out what I wanted, and so I weeded out the softwood types of which they weren't many anyway, and came away with 100 unused hardwood slats for just £20.   I'd only wanted ten before I'd actually seen them, but it was too good an opportunity to miss !

I'd wanted a few hardwood slats to make a small garden table, using an old cast-iron parasol base.  I'd bought this cheap years ago, when I didn't really have a use for it in mind but I thought it would come in handy some day.  And today's the day...

I first drew up a basic design of a 600 x 600 mm table top, and cut the slats to size on the cut-off saw.  I sanded the ends and edges of each piece as I laid them out for assembly, and then used another two lengths of slats to screw to the others, to form the table top.   These two runners are attached from underneath, so there are no screwheads visible from the top.   After I'd formed a simple square, I marked off 150 mm chamfers at the four corners and cut them down by hand.

table top profile ...

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Rescuing an old Wheelbarrow ...

We inherited our garden wheelbarrow from the previous owners of the house - it looked ancient enough then and they obviously didn't even think it was worth taking with them to their new place - but it's served us very well for the last six years.

However, the steel body tray fell off recently when tipping garden waste - the tray's totally corroded around the four bolts which fix it to the tubular frame.

old steel tray totally buggered ....

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Solar Powered Greenhouse Ventilation ...

It can get very hot in our big greenhouse in the summer and we need to remember to leave the door propped fully-open if we're going to be away, or even just out for the afternoon, otherwise some plants can start to wilt as the temperature rises to the mid-40s celsius.

I therefore decided to build a passive ventilation system, i.e. one which works automatically and needs no intervention from us.   There are no opening windows in the greenhouse, so fitting a pair of extractor fans high up on the rear wall was the plan.  

There are already five low-level aluminium louvre vents provided along the front of the greenhouse from the time of its construction, through which fresh air can be drawn in as the hot air is expelled.

I suppose I could have used kitchen-type extractor fans powered from the mains supply, but I've four 108 Wp solar panels in the shed simply gathering dust at present.  

To first confirm that the solar option was feasible, I dug one panel out, gave it a wipe clean and hooked up a 24V dc fan to the panel connector.   Even on an overcast morning the fan started to run immediately, and checking with my multimeter showed that the load voltage of the panel under those conditions was 20-24V (open circuit was ~34V).

So I decided to refit one of the solar panels to the greenhouse, but this time to one side of the roof which will also form a covered porch over the door.  

I still had the multi-panel wooden frame from when I removed the panels, so I cut off one panel-sized section and used that as the basis for the construction.  It only took the addition of a couple of knee braces back to the greenhouse structure and a fresh coat of paint to finish it off.

panel support frame over the greenhouse door ...

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Early Seed Sowing....

The days are getting longer and there's real heat again in the sun, so long as you're sheltered from the biting cold winds of course !

It's that time of the year when all gardeners are itching to start growing things, but experience tells us that it's still far too early to sow without the right conditions.

However, now that we have mains electricity in the big greenhouse, we can use heated propagators to get a headstart with the seed sowing.   Historically, we've started most of our seeds off in the house on the kitchen and workshop windowsills, but even in these south-facing locations the overall light levels are not quite enough to stop some seedlings becoming blanched and 'leggy'.

I've two heated propagators that the wife bought me for Christmas many years ago - we had electrical power to the greenhouse in our previous house - but they've just been languishing in the shed here for the last six years.

When the sun's shining, the greenhouse can get quite warm even at this time of year.  We've already recorded temperatures approaching 30 degrees C in there, so the propagators are connected via a plug-in thermal switch, which only cuts in when the temperature drops below a preset level - in our case, I've set this to 17 degrees.

the thermostatic switch...

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Making Planters from ...

further ideas for garden planters ...

1.  Coal / Log Boxes

I bought one of these decorative fireside boxes at a junk shop for a tenner.  Many of these old boxes are wooden panelled and then just covered with embossed brass-plated sheets as decoration and protection from heat, but this was a solid steel box underneath and therefore very suitable for use as a planter.  It's 400 x 300 x 300 mm in size, about 35 litres internal volume.

I drove out the hinge pin with a drift and removed the lid, and then drilled some large drainage holes in the bottom, before painting all the internal and external steel surfaces with a gold coloured metal paint (Triflow, similar to Hammerite).  Three heavy coats to prevent corrosion.

Within a few days, and before the paint was even dry on the first one, I spotted an identical box on eBay, located just a few miles away, but this second one cost me £17.50 after a round of negotiations although it's actually in worse condition than the first, cheaper box.   

preparing the second box for painting....

Friday, 13 January 2017

Goal for 2017 - Chasing more Passive Income ...

Despite my views on goal-setting I expressed last January, I do actually have one for this year, although it's financial rather than lifestyle and so I'll allow it ...

I've been tracking all the passive income I've received over the last three years.  This includes dividends, bond coupons, index-linked growth, interest, premium bond prizes and any other such distributions.  

In the past, I haven't necessarily been seeking yield as a primary objective, but there's no doubt it's a nice warm feeling every time a deposit turns up in the accounts, money for which I haven't had to work. 

The passive income I've received has grown naturally with the portfolio valuation, and indeed the sums I received in 2016 were 36% higher than in 2015.  However, I think it's time to push it a little further and see if we could cover a greater proportion of our living costs from investment income alone.  

If I take the 2016 year-end passive income figure and divide it by the 2015 year-end combined portfolio value, the income return on the total assets was only 2.3%, which just seems quite low to me.   Whereas the total return in 2016 on the assets held at the end of 2015 was 15.7%, i.e. including capital growth but excluding any of the 2016 additions to the pot.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Six weeks in the Canary Islands !

We've just arrived in the Canary Islands, where we'll spend the next six weeks in an apartment hotel.

Now that we don't have animals to worry about back home, we're again free to spend extended periods on our travels.   We're no strangers to being away, I've worked in expat roles and on projects in foreign locations where we've been away for years at a stretch.

The Canaries are really the only place where there's decent weather all year round, but also easily accessible from local airports - other warmer places in the world require long flights and only tend to operate from just a few very large airports.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Investment Review - December 2016

The results are in for the last quarter of 2016, and so here's the spreadsheet for the combined portfolio as updated on Friday 30 December.

Click on the graphic for a larger image.