A solar dehydrator built from aluminium cans.

Over the last 3 years or so i’ve been very slowly building a solar dehydrator from aluminium cans. A long-term project. I cycled off around the Colne Valley collecting discarded cans, brought them home and cleaned them. Then i made holes in them to create a whirlwind effect once they’re joined together. I slotted them together by chopping off the bottoms to get a nice, tight fit. They were primed with Auro Metal Primer, which is grey, then painted “earthen-black” using an eco-friendly matt silk paint from Auro. I made a box using some wood we had spare, with a small head space at either end for the air to flow. Holes were drilled to connect each row of cans with the head space. It was then covered with 6mm toughened glass which cost around £55 delivered from a local firm. The area of the box overall is 1 metre by 1.5metres. Here’s a video of it in the garden, South-facing. It’s not working as well as it might just yet. There doesn’t seem to be enough airflow. The theory of the drying cabinet itself is that the hot air goes in at the top and drops as it collects moisture. After some research it seems people have decided that works best. I seem to remember that it would work better with a chimney, to help the draught. It’s more the airflow than the heat that’ll do the drying.

Here’s a link to a youtube video i made, quickly showing the dehydrator in place.

Solar dehydrator in garage

Monkeyflower – Mimulus guttatus (Scrophulariaceae)

Today i ticked off the first from a long list of plants, by taking a video of my meeting with the Monkeyflower – Mimulus guttatus. What a thrill to finally make a start on the list. By my calculations only 512 to go.  Provisionally i’ve said that i’d like to meet one plant from each genus of native and naturalised flowering plants, using Francis Rose’s “The Wildflower Key”. It’s funny because i already know that goal is kind of impossible, at least with regards to Epipogium – Ghost orchid. It lives mostly underground, feeding on a host plant via mycelium networks, possesses no chlorophyll of it’s own, and is therefore unable to photosynthesise. It shows it’s head once every 17 years on average, in locations kept top secret by those botanists lucky enough to have met it. Last time it appeared for one night before a slug unceremoniously ate it. Besides which, i know that certain genera will warrant a much deeper investigation, and besides besides which, i’ll never pass up the opportunity to meet a really interesting plant (ie all of them). So a little more nuanced than my original goal sounds. It makes a nice sound-bite though, and is at least a minimum standard i’d like to aim for.

A video i took of me keying out the Monkeyflower.

On with the Mimulus show.
Firstly, it’s interesting that this woman links it’s herbal uses to uplifting the mood. When i first clapped eyes on it i started looking in St John’s Wort family; lovely yellow flowers. i then realised the flower was much more reminiscent of foxglove, snapdragon, toadflax, all in the Scrophulariaceae or Figwort family.
Plants for a Future list it’s edibility as 2 out of 5 – subjective of course, but i’m thinking along the lines of medicine rather than food. Next time i see it i’ll have a nibble, fairly happily having read some of how it’s used and having keyed it out confidently.
Wikipedia page for the Monkeyflower.

Plant Walks

I’ve had a lot of fun recently leading plant walks in Marsden. I’ve started to get a feel for how it works best. Individuals or small groups up to 4 allow me to give more of myself. It means that when I find something interesting the group is clustered close round me to get a good look at what i’m showing, and to hear what i’m saying. I feel much more relaxed, and have the feeling that I can really be myself. I have felt like a tour guide with larger groups. There seems less possibility of chatting between plants so I don’t end up getting to know anyone that well. It’s always nice to come away from a walk and feel that I’ve got to know someone.
I’ve been taking donations rather than charging, which has worked really well. It’s interesting to note that the people in the larger groups gave less per person than those in the smaller groups. It reinforces to me that it would be a false economy to lead larger groups because it doesn’t necessarily make me more money. I haven’t ruled out charging for the walks one day, but this model is helping me to get an idea of how much my time is worth.
It’s really important to me to keep it affordable for people.
I’ve been looking at other people who lead plant or wild food walks to see how they organise it, but the best would be to go on a walk with them. There are lots of ways I can see to improve them or to add more value, but they’ll wait for another time. That’d mostly involve foraging and cooking some of the things we find, or preparing tasters beforehand of the plants that we’ll find. On one walk I went on we sampled sloe gin, hawthorn fruit leather etc.
Recently, I went to Leeds and walked around the park and woods at Meanwood with a friend. We were walking for 5 hours, must have stopped and talked about 100 plants, and by the end I actually couldn’t process any more. I had to shut down my curiosity and turn on tunnel vision just to get home. We had a meal, then I collapsed onto the couch. There was a huge white Lily in a vase on the table and it actually hurt to look at it. I was still going through my checklist – 6 tepals, 6 stamens, 3 parted stigma and it hurt!
I noted that it’ll be really important as the trip goes on not to overdo it. It’s always a danger, especially when you’re passionate about what you do. There’ll be days where every plant I look at is new and interesting, compared with Marsden, where I know the flora fairly well.
“Wow!…..ahhh, nooo! No more wow!”

Catapults

Recently i’ve been busy making catapults. I now have 3 or 4 for sale for £15, contact me if you’re interested, on here or facebook.IMG_0256

They’re all natural forked branches with single, gold Theraband for the sling.

These are not toys, and are potentially deadly weapons in the wrong hands. I will not sell these to anyone under the age of 18, and please do not buy them for anyone under the age of 18. Having said that, in responsible hands they are a wonderful tool for building strength, for developing your hand-eye coordination and for having fun. If you have the permission of the land owner they are also a hunting tool.

So, what follows is a little piece about my experience getting into catapults, some videos I found useful, which you could use to help carve your own catapult and attach the rubber bands.
Equipment needed:
  • Saw to cut the branch.
  • Carving or bushcraft knife.
  • Self heal mat to slice the rubber. (Mine cost £6)
  • Rotary cutter to do the slicing. (Again £6)
  • Leather pouches to hold the ball bearing or stone. (10 for £5, could be better value to get leather and cut pouches yourself, depends how many you want to do)
  • Sandpaper/Wet n Dry/Emery paper – I use 240, 400, 800 and 1200 grit. (60p a sheet roughly I think)
  • Oil to protect the wood. (I used Ballistol http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballistol)
It took some time to work out the best forked branch for the frame, and that’s something to experiment with. Sometimes I found they split, very frustrating after all the effort of carving and sanding by hand.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5J6qHdhp-YI A video showing how to cut the Theraband and attach it to the pouch.
I found that it takes a bit more pressure than you might think to cut cleanly through the rubber, and that if you clink the metal ruler while you’re slicing you’ll leave a little cling-on. This could leave a weak area in the rubber when you come to fire it, shortening the life-span. So be firm, and keep straight. I bought a 1 metre x 12.5cm section and sliced it into the tapered form. I found here that marking the rubber was important. I used a black Sharpie pen which left quite a wide line and allowed some inaccuracy to creep in. Next time i’d be much more careful with drawing the lines. For now i’m using a 25mm down to 20mm taper.
After sanding I oiled the frame a few times, then left it to dry before attaching the band-set. I found that there is much more accuracy when the tops of the 2 forks are nice and parallel. Might be an obvious point but one I overlooked initially.
When firing it I’ve found that i’m most accurate when I hold the catapult in my left hand, sight down the bands ie, they should lie parallel to each other, give a slight twist, not too much and ping! Very satisfying, especially when you get your eye in and hit 4 or 5 in a row. You know you’re doing something right then.

Give what you can, receive what you need.

This has been a momentous week for me. I decided to stop claiming benefits in order to give myself a push towards setting up a business. Over the last few years i’ve invested heavily in picking up as much knowledge as I can about botany/wild food, and in cooking/fermentation traditions, and now i’m ready to share those things.

Today was the first Plant Walk i’ve done that i’ve received donations for personally. The week before that I raised £48 for the homeless charity Shelter. The business model i’m using is that people can donate whatever they think my time and knowledge are worth. I’m not going to put a figure on that, and there’s no pressure on my part as to what that value is. “Give what you can, receive what you need.” is the way that I look at things. I’d also be interested in doing work swaps, particularly with anyone who could help me out with bike mechanic skills.

I’ve several ideas so far. A snail collection service, the Plant Walks obviously, fermentation workshops, a business supplying wild plants, a pop up wild food restaurant. I’m very keen to get feedback from people, anything constructive that could help me towards making a living from the things i’m passionate about. That should allow me to continue to invest in myself, and the plans that I have to travel further afield and study in greater depth.

I’ve thought long and hard about what role money has to play for me, and i’ve consciously made choices that mean I can use less of it, but in order to continue growing in what I do I believe that money has some part to play. So if there’s any way in which I can be of service, let me know. See you soon.

Pink and Ruby

Luckily, I sleep with a notepad next to me. My brain made a connection whilst I slept and I woke with a strong urge to write it down.
A little background:
I’ve been gently mulling over ways to categorise the plant families, possible ways of lumping them together, memory aids, mnemonics, stories that are meaningful to me to help make sense of what is a very large area of study. I’ve drawn mindmaps and done a fair amount of word association. An example: the family Caryophyllaceae, otherwise known as the Pink family. It contains such common plants as chickweed, Stellaria media, and carnations, Dianthus spp. I imagine a pink cadillac driving down a road, driven by a woman named Cary, and a man named Phil. I can see chickweed growing from the glovebox. As I get to know the family better i’ll add other things to the image.The flower parts come in fives so I could make all the parts  of the car come in fives. 5 spokes on the wheels, 5 spokes on the steering wheel, maybe even 5 wheels, a wacky races pink cadillac. According to Botany in a Day there are 5 sepals, 5 petals and 5 or 10 stamens, but there are exceptions. The petal ends are often split, giving the impression of  there being twice the number. Don’t be fooled!
A feature of the family is the saponin content, they literally contain soap. So as a defence in our botanical wacky race, the pink cadillac will spray soap on the road behind it to foul it’s competitors (predators).
So, last night, the connection I made was in linking  the Rubiaceae family to the Caryophyllaceae. One connection is obviously the ruby part of the name, which links to pink. Another is that it contains cleavers, or goosegrass, Galium aparine, among it’s members. Chickweed and cleavers are plants I see everywhere around gardens and waysides. They’re among the first wild edibles I learnt, and I love them both. Also in Rubiaceae we find coffee, Coffea spp. Apparently the roots of some Galium species will give a red dye, and the family contains the very popular herb Rubia tinctorum, madder. Historically, used widely as a red dye.
I still need some thinking time to draw the Rubiaceae wacky races car in my head. It’s got to include velcro somewhere, cleavers being the inspiration for that invention. You’ll know cleavers by it’s little clinging seed heads that get stuck in fur and clothing.
I’ll update this when I’ve some more ideas.

Cider vinegar titration to ascertain it’s suitability for pickling raw fish.

As alluded to in a previous post I would like to use my wildcrafted cider vinegar to pickle raw fish, as in herring rollmops. In order to do so free from the risk of botulism the vinegar must contain at least 5% acetic acid. I purchased a Ritchie’s brand, wine and beer titration kit. It cost about £8. The instructions provided are used for wine and will test for sulphuric acid whereas I want to test cider vinegar for acetic acid.
Below i’ll describe the few, simple processes I went through to do so.
The kit contains: 2.5ml syringe (labelled as 2ml, but graduated up to 2.5ml), 114ml sodium hydroxide, 28ml acid indicator solution, standard sized test tube (roughly 23ml capacity).
I didn’t think the test tube would be large enough so I used a regular drinking glass.
IMG_0198
1. To the glass I added 2 ml vinegar.
When filling the syringe I made sure to line up the fluid at eye level, by lining up the black line on the outside of the jar with the bottom of the stopper. I’ve noticed that it’s quite easy to rub the black lines out on the syringe. They’re probably only made to be used once and discarded.
2. Added 20 ml water from the tap.
3. Added 3 drops of indicator solution. Easy because the bottle has a dropper on it.
4. Added 1.5ml of standard base, drop by drop, swirling with right hand, dropping with left. Each drop turns it a little pink till you mix it in. It turned completely pink after 1.5ml.

IMG_0200

Adding the standard base drop by drop whilst swirling the glass.

Finished the titration, now for the calculation.

Finished the titration, now for the calculation.

So:
1.5ml  x 0.6 = 0.9% acetic acid. Not enough for pickling raw fish then.

Next step: i’ll leave the vinegar longer to see if more acetic acid will form, then test again in a couple of weeks or more.

This is a copy/paste from the link I got my info from.

Vinegar Titration Procedure

    1. With the 10 ml syringe, measure out and add to the test container 2.0 ml of homemade vinegar. Then clean out the syringe.
    2. With the 20 ml syringe, add 20 ml of water to the test container.
    3. Add 3 drops of indicator solution to the test container.
    4. Fill the cleaned 10 ml syringe to the 10 ml mark with the standard base.
      Dispense the standard base solution slowly into the test container one drop at a time. As you add the base, gently swirl the test container to continuously mix its contents, and stop adding base when the vinegar solution turns pink.
    5. When the sample has changed color, note the amount of base solution used in the 10 ml syringe.
      • (If you started at 10 ml in the syringe and finished at 1.6 ml then the amount of base used would be: 10.0 – 1.6 = 8.4 ml.)
    6. Calculate the % acetic acid in the vinegar sample by multiplying the volume of base used by 0.6.

Example:

      If 8.4 ml of standard base was used to titrate the vinegar sample then the amount of acetic acid in the sample would be: 8.4 x 0.6 = 5.0%