Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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A walk in the forest

Awahuri Forest to be precise. It’s one of the few remaining remnants of lowland podocarp swamp forest surviving in the region. I use the word “surviving” with caution. The forest has been devastated by introduced animals and plants, and without human intervention, all native species, both plant and animal would disappear within a hundred years, probably sooner, and be replaced by exotic species.

Rats and possums are currently the target of trapping and poisoning programs as both species predate on native bird and plant life that has evolved over 80 million years in the absence of mammalian predation. There are reminders at the entrance to the forest that for our own safety it is necessary to keep to the paths.

Currently plant control is concentrating on the removal of willow trees, bamboo and tradescantia fluminensis, the latter carpeting the forest floor preventing the regeneration of native plants from the few seeds that rats and possums don’t consume. Birdsong is often being interrupted by the sound of chainsaws attacking the willow.

There’s also an active replanting program and thousands of native plants have already been planted, with many more thousands planned.

What saddens me is the thoughtlessness of some visitors to the forest. The sole surviving silver fern is dying due to people removing fronds. When the wife and I visited the forest yesterday, workers were building a fence around it to protect it from “human predation”. But as one of the workers commented to me, it’s probably too little to late to save it. It’s really sad because just a few kilometers away there’s hundreds of silver fern growing, and while not quite as convenient (no adjacent boardwalk) they are readily accessible.

We try to visit the forest at least once each week, depending on the weather. There’s little wind under the forest canopy so unless there’s rain it’s alway pleasant, even if a little chilly. And the smells of the forest are so delightful. So here’s a few images from walks the wife and I have made though the forest in recent weeks.


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Photovoltaic generation and more

PV generation

Since the 7th of May, our household has been generating some of its own electricity. Given that it’s only another three weeks until the shortest day of the year arrives, we’re achieving better savings than I expected. We have an all electric home (no gas, oil, coal, or wood), so we do consume quite a lot of electricity – 818.8 kW/h in 25 days of May to be precise. We generated 40% of that ourselves from 23 PV panels mounted on the roof.

In the highly deregulated electricity market of Aotearoa New Zealand, there is a considerable difference between the price supply companies sell electricity to consumers and the price they will buy back surplus home generation. Their sell price is typically around four times their buy price. The price differential made it tempting to install storage batteries so that we could call on surplus power when generation was low. But after discussing that option with several installers, we concluded the the return on investment was longer that the estimated life of the current generation of batteries.

Instead, we have installed an “intelligent” inverter that diverts any surplus electricity into the hot water storage system. Instead of maintaining a constant 55°C (131°F) the water is allowed to fluctuate between 40°C (104°F) and 78°C (172°F). Only after the water has reached its maximum temperature does the inverter allow electricity to be exported to the grid. Don’t worry, a regulator ensures that the maximum temperature at the tap (faucet) is no more than 55°C. In effect we’re using the hot water system as a sort of battery. We haven’t needed to use grid electricity to heat the water since the solar power was switched on. Even so that has been a few days where we have exported small quantities of electricity. I expect that in summer we’ll be exporting considerable amounts during the day, and as the heat pump will be switched off, our nighttime use should be minimal.

Covid alternatives to travel

For the most part we Kiwis have been largely unaffected by Covid-19 with the exception of international travel. In our case, it meant the cancellation of an extended holiday in Japan. We’ve concluded that at our age, it’s unlikely that we will feel the urge to undertake the journey once the dangers of the pandemic have passed. Instead we put the funds intended for travel towards solar power. Of course it’s not just a case of having the panels installed. The house, and especially the roof was in need of a repaint, so it made sense to paint the house before the solar panels were installed.

But if we’re going to paint the house, there’s a matter of some repairs that have been on the backburner for a while. The front door for example. Aging had caused fine cracks to develop in some of the wooden panels allowing daylight to be seen through them, not to mention a draft in windy weather. And if the door is to be replaced, why not replace the horrible single-glazed yellow sidelight with something that allows more light into the entrance lobby while reducing heat loss?

To cut a short story shorter, we had a new thermally isolated door and sidelight assembly custom made. The door has a digital lock so that’s one less key I have to worry about. The installers took only two hours to remove the old door and sidelight and install the new assembly. The transformation is quite amazing! Some of the recent changes can be seen in the images below.

The front door – before and after

The front (2 images) and rear (1 image) of the house before the repaint. The rear view clearly shows to state of the roof.

The final result with PV panels installed – 10 on the east facing front, and 13 on the rear facing west. The original paint scheme consisted of eight colours, the new has just four.


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Rā kirihimete 2020

Meri Kirihimete (Merry Christmas) one and all.

I appreciate that for some of my readers, it’s still Christmas Eve, but for us in Aotearoa New Zealand, Christmas day is drawing to a close.

The wife and I travelled the 110 Km (70 miles) to Paraparaumu for lunch with our daughter’s family and some of her friends. As usual it was an extended affair where we all ate too much, and by the time dessert and coffee had been served it was 5:00 pm. Three hours later I am still uncomfortably full. I think it was the third helping of the wife’s truly wonderful trifle that finally told me I had consumed too much. Although it might have been the second helping of tiramisu or pavlova…

It’s the realisation that many of my readers (most are in North America and Western Europe) will not be so fortunate this year, being unable to celebrate the festive season with friends and family, that requires me to acknowledge how fortunate we are to be living in a Covid-free bubble of five million people.

Christmas fare

Top: What was left of mains after everyone had taken their first helping.
Bottom left: My first serving of mains.
Bottom right: Selection of desserts.

Perhaps not typical Northern Hemisphere Christmas fare, but hey, it’s summer and the only fire burning today was the gas barbeque used for cooking the lamb chops and sausages.


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Flowers

The wife is fond of reminding me that I never bring her flowers. It’s not quite true, but the ridiculous price we must pay for a bunch means they are not high in priority on my shopping list.

We’re attempting to have a garden that has some flowers regardless of season, and when I reminded the wife that we have plenty of flowers, just not in a vase, she retorted that they don’t count as they’re not a gift from me to her.

She wants flowers. I can’t afford to buy some. Solution: pick some from our garden. Here’s the result.

An attempt at flower arranging


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When chaos reigns…

Today is day one of a six week renovation project, the major part of which is our main bathroom upstairs. And being the first day, it is, in the words of one of the project chippies (Kiwi slang for carpenter or builder) the best part of any project: knocking things down. That means noise – lots of noise!

Noise is one of my autistic hypersensitivities, And although it’s just half an hour after noon (at time of writing) I already feel somewhat jaded. Roll on 5PM when once again silence will reign until 8AM tomorrow morning.

Being mid-winter here, the option of retreating to the garden isn’t really an option on most days. Yesterday was an exception, warming to 15°C (59°F) and I spent most of the afternoon outdoors, but today it’s on and off drizzle, a stiff breeze and a high of 11°C (52°F). So, when chaos reigns…

…relive the calm

What better way than to enjoy the garden as it was yesterday. It might be mid winter but there’s sufficient flowers out to remind us that spring is just around the corner. To top it off, there’s the sweet perfume of over a dozen Daphne shrubs scattered alongside the pathway. Here’s a few snapshots taken in the front garden yesterday


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No walk in the park

As we near the end of day 11 in lockdown in Aotearoa New Zealand, there are some activities I am beginning to miss. Perhaps the one I miss the most, is doing the boardwalk through the Awahuri Forest. It’s just a short 4 Km drive from home, but under the current COVID-19 restrictions, it’s too far by about 3.5 Km for non essential travel.

The forest is a remnant of wetland forests that once covered much of the region before 19th century settlers destroyed most of it by converting it into pasture for sheep and dairy farming. Some of the remaining trees are over 800 years old and probably started life before any humans set foot in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Until the 1980s the forest was slowly dying. Introduced pests such as possums and rats prevented its regeneration by eating seedlings,fruit and berries, allowing non-native plant species to invade and smothering those seedlings that hadn’t been eaten.

Fortunately there is now active management of the forest, including the ongoing destruction of introduced pests. Native bird life is making a comeback, and it’s a delight listening to the calls of so many birds. And of course the pīwakawaka is often flittering within arm’s length as they perform their aerobatics catching insects that we disturb as we make our way through the forest.

Back problems force the wife to keep to the boardwalk which is a loop of a little over one kilometre and bench seats are dotted along the walk at approximately one hundred metre intervals. If I’m by myself or with the grandkids, I like to take some of the alternative tracks that can add up to another 5 Km of somewhat uneven surfaces – some of which is impassable in wetter months.

I do miss this:


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Flowers

Flowers are a delight when they’re like this:20181104_143551x1200
But a real pain in the arse when they’re like this:20181104_141758x1200
Literally!

First it was the camellias, then it was the flowering cherries. Now it’s the rhododendrons. Traversing the pathway with its 4 metre (13 ft) rise from the car parking pad to the front door means taking one’s life in one’s hands. At this time of the year it sees no direct sun and after even a little rain becomes extremely slippery. It takes skill to manoeuvre one’s way through this pretty hazard without taking a tumble…

 


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Still cattle

A little while back I took Milo (a beautiful dog that belongs to my daughter’s family) for an extended walk that included an excursion into the countryside. During the walk I happened to pass what seemed like a tranquil scene. It was so still and calming that I had to stop and take a snap of the three cows in a paddock. The only camera I had with me was the one on my phone, which happens to be very basic – not even a zoom. But even before I took the photo I realised the scene was not all it seemed to be…

Three cows in a paddock
I know the picture isn’t the best quality, but if you look closely you might notice that the three cows have iron constitutions.

Yep, they are made entirely from corrugated roofing iron.