Author Archives: zephyr

Olives 2014

Olives – we love eating the things!



picking olives

I picked mine October onwards. I have 3 cultivar olive trees. They have not been pruned or cared for in years – so have grown very large and unkempt. Their height makes picking olives for eating very difficult. I was only able to pick olives of the shortest one. This with the aid of a ladder.


Over the season I picked 3 kilogrammes of olives from the one tree. The olives on all three trees were heavily infected by the Mediterranean fruit fly. They lay their eggs in the olives and their larvae then eat the olive from the inside. This year I must do something to thwart them. Since I don’t want to spray with pesticides, I think my options are limited to clay coating the olives. I have read that kaolin clay is the clay to use but I think any other fine clay would be suitable. The other option is to use fly traps around the trees.


I marinaded the olives following an italian receipe which I found on the internet. I had to substitute the dill with wild thyme as I didn’t have any. I do have a lot wild thyme here so there’s always a wild time to be had 🙂 . I never knew about wild thyme until one swedish neighbour introduced me to it. She is a very knowledgeable gardener. For my first attempt I have to say I am very pleased with the result. DSC_0277 DSC_0377

These olives are certain very edible and I have eaten my way through half of them.


I have a lot of wild olives trees. They produced either no olives or very miniscule ones. I however had one wild olive tree produce half decent olives. wild olivesThey are about half the size of the cultivar variety and while not having much flesh on them are still worth the chew with drinks.DSC_0306











Today I attempted cleft grafting a wild olive tree. We’ll have to wait a few weeks to see if it’s successful or not. I have read up on and am still learning the different techniques used to graft trees from articles on the internet. I have my grafting compound and grafting tape and am definitely raring to go come spring! DSC_0383





End of year and a new beginning..

DSC_0357So 2014, draws to an end. My life here in Portugal has got busier and more difficult in the latter part of the year. I am still very happy nevertheless.


The wooden lamparquet floor I was installing ended in dismal failure. It has lifted in several places in the kitchen. It will all have to be removed. I have switched to tiles for the living room area. This together with obtaining Portuguese residency consumed a lot of time.


The dog’s been difficult as well . He bit me a few times but we have made a lot of progress since then. I can’t still touch his basket with him in it. He’s very possessive. He needs three walks a day, so I am walking a minimum of 5 km everyday with him.


DSC_0316Winter’s been cold. I don’t have adequate heating and the heat loss of the cottage is horrendous. There is really no insulation to speak of. Luckily the temperatures have only hovered a little below 4ºC on just a few nights. I am using a stove as my sole heat source. I also use it to boil water for bathing. It’s too cold for outdoor showers now.


Trees. I have planted quite a few trees! Mainly fruit trees. I have a small orange grove in the making but it will take a few years for them to grow. I planted them on either side of the swale. Green peas and lettuce are growing really well. I can also say cardboard layering works brilliantly as a weed supressant.DSC_0342






LE 300

LE 300

young lemon and lime and tangerine trees

young lemon and lime and tangerine trees


Got the wind turbine up. It’s only a 300 Watt one but I like it! At the moment it’s not charging my batteries as I have to build the charge controller.


Bring on 2015. It will be the real test for me. As someone told me, 2014 has been my watershed year.

Summer loving..there was none of that but other things kept me occupied. :)

August has come and gone. And a busy August it has been too. Completely none stop, with hundred and one things going on.

DSC_0226It was fantastic to have my friend PT Jorge and my brother visit me!  Maybe we should have relaxed more but I had them both give me a hand with things that needed doing.  Jorge was fantastic in aiding me to harvest the carobs. We got 12 sacks full.  carobs_collected







The carobs are then sold at this Co-operative type place who personally I think are doing a fantastic job. The Government now want there cut from every carob bean traded.. :). DSC_0249







My brother was a great help. We had a go at installing the wooden floor (oak lamparequet blocks) using untried methods. It was challenging but we managed to find a method that seems to work. But gluing the 2 mm cork underlay to the floor first and then using a minimal amount of glue for the wooden blocks that stick on top of it seems to work best. It is a slow process never the less and I’ll be lucky to get the kitchen finished before winter. DSC_0260 He was a great help in helping be to find the pipes in the walls. There was no mains pipework installed which is good to know. I can now implement my own solution. My bro also helped me install my second solar panel array on the roof. Couldn’t have managed this on my own. It consists of three, 160 watt panels giving me a total generation capacity of 960 watts which should be sufficient for my needs. I have a 1200 W inverter.

This runs all my current appliances except the washing machine which stresses it out. I would like to go upto 2400 Watts but I am not sure if I have enough batteries to sustain this type of load for any significant amount of time.

I charge my electric bicycle from my solar generated electricity! I really love this bike. It has given me substantial independence here and has good range of 60 km. gingabike TWA

The composting toilet has been challenging in terms of the odour. I was almost about to call it a day last week but I have decided to stick with it. I’m going to seal it up and then use forced ventilation for this enclosed space.




steady_trickleBeen getting a steady stream of veggies.  Cherry tomatoes, rocket, basil sweet, peppers, melons! bro_wit_melon and now the garlic are doing well. They wouldn’t sprout in August because it was too hot.This despite giving them all the water they could possibly want.


Sweet Million F1I am really pleased the two Sweet Million cherry tomatoes that I planted back in March have come through for me!  I have this august,  planted a bit of ginger in a pot.








DSC_0262 It’s growing slowly but steady. This week I put a bit in the ground so fingers crossed. I’ve planted a few fruit trees as well so I have a mini orchard now. A clementine, tangerine – my bro gave me hand with this one, lemons, lime, one pear tree and a couple of peach.






It the middle of September. I have been harvesting my almonds. It has colled down and actually rained today. So I got to built Primeiro a house -asap. He is a good dog and I glad I have him. He´s got my back whwn he’s not trying to bite me..) He is a little possessive of this things. I got him a trailer now, so when we have to travel far I pull him along in this.

Of Rats and Seeds

Rats and seeds.
I will have been back two weeks in Portugal come tomorrrow. I returned to find the house completely infested with rats. They got in through the chimney which I had failed to block adequately. They were have themselves a rave. They ate everything edible and even the non edible. My solar power system was disabled until a couple of days ago because the rats had gnawed through the cables. They really go go for the PVC insulation with a vengeance. The last two were too intelligent for the traps and seemed immune to poison. So I named them the Rasputins. I had to take them out by hand as I couldn’t stand it any longer. I disabled my kitchen drain in the process / dead rat trap in the pipe, but thankfully have sorted this out today. The whole place absolutely stinks of rat wee but I am cleaning up slowly.

My Irish/English neighbour, Denise was good as gold and look after Priemeiro, my dog, as well as my plants while I was away finishing of my degree. I am now a holder of a BSc Open. I can definitely say it was worthwhile doing. I specialised in environmental sciences and linguistics in my third year modules. Oceanography was tough but really useful for gaining an insight as to how our planet functions as a biosphere. The Renewable Energy was really practical and fun.

I have been planting seeds as quick as I can. The Jamie Oliver peas I had planted when I first got here, in Feb had fruited. So I collected seeds from these pods which I planted. They sprouted within a week! I hope to save them from the snails this time round.

Planted more beans and I also got a pot full of coriander coming up. Sown some rocket with willow cuttings in a builder´s bucket. I planted about 14 willow cuttings out in the field but they are really struggling. It is far too dry and hot for them. I have sited the builder´s bucket underneath the carob tree so it should be shaded. The Carob tree is a wonderful tree. Besides not requiring irrigation and producing a cash crop, they provide ample shade. Tomatoes are what I crave. I got a few from my first attempt but they, like the green peppers are struggling to grow in the heavy clay soil. I´ll have to try something different with the new batch of seedlings.
I am trying to propagated a few grape vine from cuttings. So far just one has taken.

As for flowering plants, I think the trailing lobelia have germinated! I see tiny pairs of leaves comign through the soil 🙂 I collected the seeds from my garden in England. Can’t wait!

peasI got a small harvest of beans, but they have all turned yellow now. Maybe it´s too hot for them.
Look the one melon! I have 4 melon plants but just one melon so far.. . I also planted a peach tree. lemon_n_peach
My lemon tree is not doing great. The new leaves are curled and deformed and all leaves have an unhealthy yellowish tinge.

Been working on my round house when i can. It´s been slow but steady ) I´ve almost got the stone and rubble foundation done. DSC_0202

That’s all from me and my dog in the campo 🙂

BitCoin Wallet for Android and the Jota Text Editor


A couple of applications for the android smartphone.

BitCoin Wallet android_BitCoin_Wallet

The first application is a BitCoin wallet. This application is quite lightweight and works well on my Sony Ericsson Xperia smartphone. The system requirements don’t seem to be quite low. This is because the software does not download the full BitCoin blockchain. This makes it quicker at processing the transaction in a reasonable amount of time with limited processing power. It took under two minutes to send Bitcoins from the wallet on my PC to my wallet on my smartphone.

The software can be downloaded directly from the developer’s site as well as Google’s Play Store.

Not being a fan of Google, I prefer to download software that is available directly from the developer. Here’s the link to developer’s site:

After installing the BitCoin wallet please remember to encrypt it and PLEASE make sure you REMEMBER the password that you choose for this. As if you forget it, there is no way that you will be able to access your wallet. It is also advisable to make a copy of this encrypted file and store it elsewhere for example, your computer’s hard drive or a usb stick.

You can also see what developments are being made to the software and make your own requests too on the forum. At the moment NFC (tap to transfer type transaction) functionality has been implemented and is being tested.

jota_text_editorJota Text Editor.

My Xperia came without a decent text editor. It had one of sorts but I could never summon it at will and did want to use a google app. Anf give the corporations and GCHQ yet more material to work with. After having a look around I found Jota Text Editor which is a brilliant little text editor it’s pronounced as i-o-t-a by the way.

You can download it from here.

That about wraps it up for now.

BitCoin, BitCoin Exchanges and MtGox


Protest at MtGox, Tokyo, 14th February 2014

Protest at MtGox, Tokyo, 14th February 2014

By now many of you must have heard of the demise of the Mtgox BitCoin exchange.

This exchange was the biggest BitCoin exchange until a few months back. Was not known by many including myself was that it was being run almost single-handedly by a single person, but Frenchman less. Despite being based in Japan.



As it was the largest BitCoin exchange at the time, it is quite shocking that this large exchange was being run by a single individual, Mark Karpeles. He took it upon himself to do all backend implementation and security. He was lax in implementing security patches for known system vulnerabilities and had no I.T Security Officer let alone team. All this was hidden from the users by a well presented and very professional user interface as well as the information on how to secure the online wallets using private key s/ public key encryption. What this did was give the MtGox users a false sense of security, and who then left their BitCoins in an online wallet. Mark Karpeles was unable to explain what had happened and where the BitCoins had disappeared to. Later, some 200,000 BitCoins, were miraculously found in an old style wallet (BBC, 2014).



What is sad about it, is that it does reek of being an inside job. This ‘model’ where transfers stop going through and BitCoins then disappearing mysteriously, followed finally by the company filing for bankruptcy has been done before. Over the last 2-3 years but by smaller exchanges like the ( exchange, 2014). After this the clients who had BitCoins are just happy to receive whatever crumbs can be gleaned from the sale of the ‘recovered BitCoins’ . Meanwhile the bulk of the BitCoins disappear forever, untraceable due to BitCoin’s excellence as an crpto-currency.


My personal feeling is that Mark Karparales did not take the responsibility of running the largest BitCoin exchange seriously. And as a result either by willful theft or sheer negligence has managed to harm BitCoin users and well as BitCoin. I had a few BitCoins on the MtGox exchange which I was gutted to have stolen. Fortunately, BitCoin has proved by it’s recovery in value that it is a very good cryptocurrency in it’s own right.



The lesson from this is to do due diligence checks on any exchanges that you are planning to use and not to leave your BitCoins online. Store them in an encrypted offline wallet. I have certainly learnt my lesson.



BBC, 2014, ‘200,000 missing BitCoins’

Link Verified 07/06/2014

Protest at MtGox, Tokyo, 14th February 2014

Link Verified 07/06/2014 exchange, 2014

Link Verified 07/06/2014


Almost 3 months on..

Almost 3 months on and still no pipes. I just haven’t been able to work out where the main pipes are that would bring water into the house. I went and got copies of the planning application for the build from the town hall but these make no mention of plumbing of any sort being installed. So for now this is how the kitchen sink is operating 1397664573305and these are the showering facilities 🙂 DSC_0146. It’s great at the moment as I manage to get scalding hot water between noon and five pm. Looks like I will have to go down the route of breaking walls to try and  find the  pipes.




Here I’m using the portable bbq as a kind of rocket stove. DSC_0167It works very well as  I have plenty of branches and twigs to feed the beast.  I found putting a pot inside the main pot works well and means you have only the one blackened cooking pot. You can see that I got green beans cooking around the smaller pot with the rice inside.


Caught some snails for some Portuguese people as a practice run. When life gives you lemons make lemonade 🙂 Looks like I have to eat them myself soon 🙂         1398584167040

Speaking of lemons I planted my first lemon tree which I got at a monthly market that’s help in Montecarapacho.

Got my first veggies! Green peas that I had planted from seed. first_green_peasJust two plants survived the snails.

I stuck carob tree cutting in the ground to see if they will root.










I got a dog now. Primeiro Maio. primeiro 1

He a good dog with a good set of fangs. He gave me a good bite when I got between him and another dog when they were mixing it up.  I’m fine. I am not foaming at the mouth any more than usual :).








My kind neighbour, Denise it looking after him at he moment while I’m away for a bit.

The off-grid solar setup is working fantastically well! The Victron 1200W inverter can drive both my fridge and 5 kg capacity WASHING MACHINE!
This with just two 160W solar panels. At around 11:30 am I had them generating over 8A at 35V.  (I’m on a 24V system)
This is more that sufficient power for the above mentioned load. The batteries remained fully charged throughout the  washing machine’s program.

So Happy days! 🙂




First Steps

Well, it´s been just over a month since I´ve been in Portugal. The first few days were really hard. I had huge rats crawling all over the place and no light. Fortunately my batteries arrived by the end of the first week so I got my solar panels  and led lights working.  They are working really well out here.  DSC_0073_sBlew up my cheap Chinese inverter a couple of weeks a ago though – by connecting it the wrong way round.

I splashed out and got a 1200W Victron. I have as yet to test it properly to see that it does what it says on the tin. But I´m confident as Victron inverters have pedigree. I plan to use it to run a fridge,  pump and electronic equipment. I´m running most lights directly off the batteries.

I had week of dust bowl hell. The floors were not sealed. The dust even killed the keep pad of my mobile phone. I couldn´t deal with the floors uni I finished my uni assignment.

Toilet – as there is no water in the house I have a composting toilet. It works really well. potty It separates the poo and wee so there is really no poo smell, once you cover it it with a bit of hay.  I have got to pipe the wee outside though as it gets a bit smelly if kept indoor.

Don´t know when I´ll get the water sorted out. I still haven´t worked out where the pipes go.. .

first_plantingsPlanted a few things. Green peas, yellow peppers, onions and garlic. Two tomato seedlings sprouted but they don´t look too sturdy.  I´ve got a compost heap going as well. Works great for recyclign all organic waste. green_peasMy perennial fusia seems to have recovered. I´m pleased about this as it flowered in England every year without fail.



Bought and installed a stove. Eustfas Juan Panadero No.3 . It´s a top loader so a bit tricky lighting and reloading it but it works well once it´s going. I also love my WROX rotary drill! It the first time I´ve used one. Brilliant! buraco




Well that´s all for now. The battle with the rats with be drawn out. They are determined and intelligent. They avoid the rat traps. Outside is absolutely crawling with them. The air is also thick with bees but this is a good thing. I never saw a bee in England in my garden going back a  good few years.  It rained really heavily this week. I mean absolutely poured down. But I´m not complaining. The wild flowers are loving it.wild_lillies



The Pattishall PV Project. Pt1

Since I started my renewable energy course, I’ve been itching to engage with its in practical way. I now find myself having the good fortune where I’m able to finance a small solar PV project.

The aim.

I’ve decided to to implement this at my brother’s residence. His household has quite a high level of energy consumption. Having done the calculations earlier as part of my OU coursework, I am pretty sure that wall and loft insulation as well as solar hot water would definitely help slash his energy bill. Perhaps we will get round to doing these later but for now the attraction of solar PV proves just to irresistible! I had got a couple of 10 watt solar panels and a couple of batteries to play with 3 months ago. It was a very satisfying experience to see these tiny tiny panels charge the batteries in the middle of winter and provide a decent amount of light via high luminescence LED light bulbs (rated 380 lumens) . energy bright

The budget.

Implementing solar PV (photo-voltaic) is not cheap and it is questionable whether it is a good idea to implement in the UK. Having said this, PV panels have come down in price substantially to what they were a few years ago. I think this is in part thanks to the Chinese who have forced European and other manufactures to stop maintaining the price of solar PV panels at artificially high levels.

I expect to spend around £2,500 for a 1.6 kiloWatt system. This is for a hybrid system and has the additional cost of batteries, charge controller and off-grid inverter. I decided it’s better to have this option as I like the idea of energy independence. If you have only grid-tie and the the Government, in collusion with the energy companies passes some draconian law you’d have the option of going entirely off-grid less painfully. In addition if the power lines do go down, your lights will still stay on. At least some of them. 🙂

The planned system.


This is the planned implementation (please click to see the full size image). The panels are connected in parallel. It would be good to have some feedback.

Feed-in tariffs – another Old Boys network


The power generation feed in tariff scheme or scam depending how you look at it.

You can read about it feed in tariffs here and below is my take on it.

solar-techThe government’s promotion of the feed in tariff scheme is most beneficial to companies and individuals who have signed up to the MCS (Microgeneration Certification Scheme) accreditation and scheme. To get onto the scheme, manufacturers and retailers have to get their products certified. This certification comes at a premium. The government benefits from the taxes that this certification process generates. It is like a club because is excludes manufacturers and retailers whose products meet and exceed expected safety and power standards but who are excluded simply because of not being a member of this club. There is no need for this requirement as solar energy related technology – for both domestic hot water systems and photovoltaic (P.V) for electricity generation is not that complicated and should be made more accessible especially since prices of equipment for both technologies have fallen significantly in recent years.

And yet this MCS entity is what is being used to determine how the taxpayers’ money is spent on ‘green projects’ and the size of our energy bills via ‘green taxes’ which the public at large have not had any say in. The whole scheme seems to be geared towards putting people into yet more debt, as these MCS accredited systems and installers cost lot more than they would under equivalent free market prices. The scheme seems to benefit only the very rich who have bags of cash to spare and can afford an MCS certified and installed system and then have it paid for via the feed in tariffs at everyone else’s expense. What the government’s and the energy suppliers should do is only insist that the inverter unit that actually connects the system to the national grid is MCS certified and the connection inspected by a professional who could be an MCS certified installer but not necessarily so as a qualified electrician can easily do the job.

The fact that the Government guarantees payment of these feed in tariffs for 20 years only compounds the madness as again they can only do this by allowing the energy firms loot everyone else which means higher energy bills for you and me. The Government are fine with all of this as they get their cut in the form of V.A.T. The higher our the energy bills the more the Chancellor benefits.

Let’s hope we will be able to change this cosy crony setup so that we, the people as a whole, will really be able to implement green technologies for a sustainable future and have lower energy bills at the same time.