July 2011

I’ve been interested in the potential for micro-hydro for ages but never been able to find a suitable system that would work with the large head, small flow streams that many smallholdings would have. A couple of weeks ago I was working at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show as part of my role with the Horticulture Wales project, imagine my surprise then when I saw this in the same tent as our stand!

It’s a 7kW system, put together by a really interesting not-for-profit group called The Green Valleys. They spend their time helping landowners to install micro-hydro and have a range of systems from 1.5kW  upwards.

There are a lot of challenges – the cost of pipes and grid connections amongst them – but the economics are really very interesting.

If you consider a turbine like this, and assuming your stream never dries out, here’s how much money you’d bring in from the Feed-In-Tariff:

7kW x 24 hours x 365 days x 20p per kWh = £12,264 / year

Not bad! And when you consider that a simple installation would start from £25k, it could be a fantastic investment.

And that’s before you even consider the environmental benefits that come from producing 61.3 MW of green electricity each year!

About a year ago, when I dug the last garden beds, I cut and piled the turf upside-down in this great mound.

In theory this was supposed to break down into nice rich soil, with no trace of the grass left.

In reality I have a very dry pile of turf pieces. The grass is dead but has hardly broken down at all, I’ve been using the pile to fill in the bottom of the latest beds I’m digging so it’ll probably finish its decomposition there, but it’s fair to say that this experiment has been a bit of a failure. In future I’ll either dig the turf straight into the bottom of my double-dug beds, or if I’m making a pile like this I’ll make sure to keep it damp and see if that helps.

Here’s what the turf sections look like when you dig them out of the pile:

 A busy spring has left us a little behind on the garden, with far fewer crops ready than we had last year. I also hadn’t made any progress on completing our garden beds. Since last Summer we’ve had 375 sqft dug of our proposed 800 sqft (eight 100 sq ft beds). I haven’t had a decent chance to dig any more for this year’s planting, but that all changed this weekend.

Fortunately I had laid some weed-proof fabric over the area for the next two beds, and so, since Autumn, the grass, moss and weeds had been slowly dying back. When I peeled this back earlier in the year the grass was still surviving, but yesterday it had all gone!

Digging this bed was so much easier than the previous ones. The remaining grass roots made the top layer a little difficult, but nothing like trying to get through turf. I also used a different technique for the digging too. Previously I’ve removed the turf and stacked it separately, but it’s been suggested by some of our visitors that it’d be better to put it straight into the bottom of the area I’m digging. I’m double-digging these beds so that’ll mean the remaining roots and weeds will be about two feet down, so they should just break down nicely, with no chance of them re-colonizing the bed. We’ll see!

Now I just have to work out what to plant in it! At the moment it looks like our new Broccoli patch, to be followed by our winter veg bed.