Thursday, 25 September 2014

Cheap eBay chic


I’m not a fashionista by any means but my new office look was such a bargain I just had to blog about it. After 8 months of hardcore saving followed by the first 2 months of paying off our loan I have been pretty much on a personal spending ban. I have bought a few things here and there but hardly bought any new clothes in that time. It’s quite demoralising wearing the same things to work on a rotation so I have treated myself to some well-deserved clothes. Where from? eBay of course!

The beautiful deer bib necklace is my star buy. I actually found it on Etsy for £10 but after looking on eBay I found that a seller in China stocks them for just £1.79! Even though I was buzzing at the find I was a little disheartened to discover that not all Etsy sellers are selling ‘handmade, vintage or unique factory-manufactured’ and are in fact selling cheap things from China. So watch out! Always do a bit more research on an item from Etsy.



The skater skirt dress cost just under £8 from a cheap eBay shop after doing a search for ‘skater dress’. It comes in many different colours from which I chose teal to compliment my new ginger hair colour. By the end of the day I noticed a few bobbles on areas that had rubbed against my handbag and cardigan so maybe it won’t look new for very long. This could make the purchase false economy, but I shall see how it goes.



I’m good at making choices that are false economy because cheap prices make me feel a purchase is justifiable. I have bought several pairs of cheap army boots over the last few years spending no more than £25 at a time and, alas, each fell apart after a few months. This time I invested a bit more money and got these Rocket Dog thunder boots for a great price of £40, again from eBay, and I am in LOVE. They are sturdy, very comfortable for my wide feet and perfect for the wetter autumn season.

What do you think of my outfit post debut?


Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Cloud storage vs. external hard drive



When I was younger I used to be quite savvy with high street tech. I worked in mobile phone shops for several years and new all the available mobile phone models and the latest gadgety features they had at the time. But a few years later I met Dave who is an IT geek and a gadget lover. Gradually, all my gadgety and digital needs were taken over by Dave (mainly because it was so much easier to let him do it all) and now I am really out of touch.

One of the biggest changes I have noticed is the price of digital storage. When I was doing my A levels in 2005 it cost me £20 for a 512MB memory stick and now you can pick up a 1TB external hard drive for around £60. 1TB is 2000x bigger than a 512MB memory stick, to put that price change over 9 years in perspective. In 2005 the largest available hard disk drive was only 500gb (half of 1TB)!

But now the rise of virtual storage, referred to as the ‘the cloud’ (not to be confused with the Wi-Fi company by the same name) or cloud storage, digital data backup has been revolutionised.  Now anyone can use the internet to save data with companies that can be accessed anytime. However, as with most things, there is a debate over the old fashioned and the futuristic. Which method of back up is best?



Pros and Cons
I researched the subject to found the following pros and cons for each:

Cloud storage

Pros

  • Some storage is available for free with some providers.
  • Can never lose it
  • Can be accessed on any device
  • Files can be shared easily with friends and family
  • Always up to date with technology 

Cons

  • Relies on an internet connection to upload files and access files. 
  • Uses internet bandwidth which can cost if you haven’t got an unlimited upload plan.
  • It costs above the free storage threshold (5gb for Google)
  • If you decide to revert to hard drive storage you will need to transfer all your files
  • Regular payments are required and infinitely
  • Some providers force the customer to do a manual sync every time a change is made to a file. If you change a file stored on your PC, you have to re-upload the newest version to the cloud yourself.


Hard drive

  • Pros 
  • One time investment
  • Fast file transfer 
  • Safe from hackers
  • You can encrypt files to protect them from hacking
  • Internet isn’t required to access files

Cons

  • Susceptible to fire, loss, theft and damage
  • Will only work with devices that have a port to connect a cable
  • Hard drives need to be connected all the time
  • You need to trust the service provider. 
  • Expensive and sometimes even impossible to retrieve data from damaged hard drives
  • Hard drives may not be around forever. Think floppy discs and even CDRs!
  • Of you change a file on your PC you will need to change it on your external hard drive also


Price
The pros and cons list for each is quite balanced in my opinion. So cost could be a deciding factor. I have researched some pricing to get a better idea of the cost implications of each storage method.

This handy little comparison from Which magazine shows the process for different amounts of storage from several different providers.


http://www.which.co.uk/technology/software/guides/how-to-choose-the-best-cloud-storage-service/the-best-value-cheap-cloud-storage-services/


The first main price difference is that several cloud storage providers offer a certain amount of free storage such as Google drive (5gb). The second difference is that cloud storage is costs each year where as an external hard drive has just a one of cost.

To compare the costs directly I paid £66 for a 1TB portable hard drive from Viking Direct (there are cheaper retailers but I like their service and we use them at work) where as the cheapest provider of 1TB cloud storage is PC World KnowHow at £50 PER YEAR. Yes, pretty similar prices but cloud storage you have to pay every year.


Conclusion

In conclusion to my research I choose an external hard drive for backing up data. I was charge only once and I can access my files anytime I like, even when I don’t have the internet.

However, I do use Google Drive which offers some free storage but this is mainly for shared documents with Dave, such as shopping lists and budget spread sheets, rather than backing up data.

With the way technology goes, the cost of cloud storage will decrease continuously. But for now, for me, an external hard drive is the best data storage option because it is the cheapest and I can access my files any time with no internet required.


What do you think?

I would love to hear your thoughts on the debate and which is your preferred storage method and why.



Saturday, 20 September 2014

Behind the scenes of the chicken pen and composting bins




Today I spent some time arranging the ‘behind the scenes’ area of the chicken pen- you know, the area that is used to store feed, bedding and cleaning things you don’t really want to see? I now have a little system I’m quite happy with. The chicken feed is kept securely in a large bin at the back of the coop and now I have placed a second bin in the same area for sawdust used for bedding, There is also a bucket and shovel so I can clean out the coop easily and carry the waste over to the composting bin.



Both bins had recently been emptied when we moved in so I have decided that the bin on the left is for kitchen waste and the bin on the right is for chicken and ferret waste. Ferret waste includes soiled newspapers at the moment while the new ferret is housed separately from Forest and Bramble. I think this will take some time to rot down and prefer the idea of keeping the animal poop separate form the kitchen waste and give it more time to decompose.



The system makes life a little easier because I don’t have to negotiate the style with things for the chickens frequently. The chicken pen is located over the other side of the fenced area of the wood which we call ‘the garden’. This area is about 1 acre in size and circles around the house, parking area and entrances to the shed and workshop. It’s far enough away from most areas to not be an eyesore but it is a pain having to carry everything over the style to reach the chickens. In autumn the style is very slippy and even more so when covered in ice in winter. There is a gate further down but the journey would be much further.





The fenced off area is supposed to keep Paddy the dog in, giving him a large area to roam at his own free will. However, it has only taken him three years to discover he can jump over the fence (and get to the bitch next door who has been on heat for a few weeks!). So the fence will need raising to keep the long-legged hound in. The style would need to be even higher when this happens so we plan to make another gate from the garden area straight into the chicken pen (when we find some time, wherever it is) instead.

From the garden area the chicken bins and compost bins can’t be seen which I am happy about. The compost bins are located just the other side of the fence, behind the large aviary, so we can reach over to fill them easily from the garden side.

If you have chickens I would love to hear about your ‘set up’ and routine for keeping them.



Monday, 15 September 2014

Homemade yogurt is half the price


If your household is anything like mine, you will go through a large amount of yogurt. We love yogurt with fruit, with curry, with chilli con carne, for breakfast, as a snack…it’s such a versatile food.

Earlier in the year I blogged about cheap live yogurt and studied the price difference between top brands such as Activia and a cheap live yogurt found down the world food isle in supermarkets called Henna. It costs around £1 for a 1kg tub which is pretty cheap. However, I have recently got back into making my own yogurt as it works out even cheaper.



Yogurt makers are relatively cheap. If you do a quick Google Shopping search the cheapest comes in at just over £13. We found ours at a car boot sale for £3.

They are so easy to use and I manage to make it at less than half the price of Henna yogurt. Only a teaspoon of live yogurt is required to turn milk into live yogurt. The first time around you will need to buy some live yogurt but thereafter you can use a teaspoon form each batch to make the next.



UHT milk seems to work best. Normally I get semi skimmed but I recently discovered skimmed works just as well. My yogurt makes takes 6 glasses and a 1 litre carton of skimmed UHT milk costs 49p from Morrisons and makes me 1 and a half rounds of yogurt. Dave has a clever device that plugs into a socket and when an electronic device is plugged into it, it measures how much power it uses. The yogurt makes needs to be on for around 8 hours and uses 0.017kwh and this worked out at less than 1p to run for 8 hours!



The Henna yogurt comes in 1kg tabs but the milk for the homemade yogurt is measured in litres.  It works out that it costs around just 50p to make 1litre of yogurt. For the purpose of this comparison lets say that 1litre of yogurt is equal to 1kg of yogurt. This means that it’s half the price of the cheapest live yogurt available in most supermarkets, and just as tasty!


And what better way to enjoy cheap, homemade yogurt than with a few free, wild harvested blackberries. Yum yum.



Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The new girls


Today, I collected these young ladies from a local chicken breeder business called Holme Poultry. They are a Rhode Island Red hybrids known as Warrens and are known for their good egg laying capabilities. The hens cost £10 each and are at point of lay which means they are just about to start laying eggs for the first time.

I have had warrens before and they make lovely pets as well as being productive livestock. They tame easily so much so that you will find yourself tripping over them.

Although these ladies made a commotion when catching them and depositing them into the cage for transportation, they were calm and quiet during the short journey and didn’t make much of a fuss as I placed each one carefully into their new coop.

The coop is constructed from an old trailer with a corrugated tin roof that lifts up on one side for access. It’s parked in a large area of the wood surrounded by mesh reaching 8ft high to keep the hens in and Mr Fox out.

I’m going to keep the hens locked in the coop for a couple of nights so that they get used to it. I’ll then let them into the pen and hope that they find their way back into the coop on an evening.

I’m super excited to have hens again after several years without any. I would like to sell their eggs to help cover the cost of their keep so shall be keeping a record of their expenses.




Julie of Holme Poultry sells her chickens from her and her husband’s lovely home just yards down the road from us near the village of Holme Upon Spalding Moor in East Yorkshire. I really recommend her to anyone wanting to buy choocks. You can visit her website here.



Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Extreme blackberry picking tips


The best thing about this time of year, for me, is the abundance of wild food. There is something extremely satisfying about collecting your own fruit and making it into jams, liqueurs and puddings. I get a sense of wholesomeness when I open the chest freezer to see bags of frozen fruit, ready at any time to be used and available all year around.

I call it extreme because I am talking about talking those really dense, high brambles that provide such a large quantity of fruit. The end of August and through September is blackberry season. Brambles cover a large percentage of the woodland floor in our wood but they are quite spindly and the fruit is small and sparse. So we visit our favourite spot which is down a disused railway where the blackberry bushes were once cultivated by a station master. The fruits there are bigger, juicer and there are so many of them. We visit a few times over a couple of weeks at this time of year and there is evidence of only a small amount of picking from other people. Even though we take a heavy harvest there are always many berries left on the bushes.

Blackberry picking is an easy and rewarding activity but it can also be painful and messy due to the thorns, the nettles that happen to grow around most bramble bushes and the juice that stains clothes so easily. Here are my few simple tips for successful extreme blackberry foraging.


Wear jeans and a waterproof or thick jacket 

The jeans and jacket will protect you from the thorns as you wade through the bush to reach berries.

Wear a leather gardening glove on one hand

The glove will allow you to pull the brambles towards you while you use the other hand to carefully pick off the berries.


Take a small, hard receptacle with a string handle

Hanging your receptacle around your neck keeps your hands free for tackling the bramble bush. I just put a plastic bag into a plant pot then tie a loop of string around the top of the pot as the lip of the pot is effective at keeping the string in place. I then tie a length of string to the string around the pot to form a handle that is long enough to go over my head and lets the receptacle hand at belly height.

Take a large receptacle 

The one you have round your neck will fill quickly so dispense your berries into the larger receptacle when required.




Take a pole from a sweeping brush with a coat hanger hook stuck in the top

It’s sod’s law that the biggest, ripest and juiciest berries are just out of reach but this cheap, simple tool helps you pull the thick, spiky stems closer so you can access the best berries.

Wash before you eat them

Once picked, rinse them in cold water to remove as many beasties and foliage as possible before bagging them up for the freezer. If you intend to eat them fresh, keep them in the fridge, unwashed, until the time comes to eat them. Once wet they go off a lot quicker. There will be the odd bug in there but that’s just something one needs to accept when eating wild food. Extra nutrition and all that!







I wish you a fruitful blackberry picking season and hope my tips save you from a few scratches and provides many puddings!








PS.Do you have and nifty picking tips to share?

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Wildlife Wednesday: The hornet nest



No, no I'm not changing the name of the blog; it's just a post on this beautiful hornet’s nest we discovered in the wendy house!

We noticed the low hum of a hornet flying and watched one as it landed on the wendy house and crawled through a hole to the inside. Upon opening the doors we discovered the nest right up in the pitch of the roof at the back.

Naturally I was wary of the beasts and yelped a bit when the nest began to hum louder as we looked in. One flew around by head then somehow fell onto my hand, bounced off and flew away. I yelped again.

I snapped a quick couple of photos with the aid of a torch as the low light made it difficult to photograph. There seems to me some sort of excretion on the floor and on the box directly below the nest and there are several dead hornets on the floor of the wendy house.



After waiting a while it came apparent that the hornets are landing on the outside and make their way through the hole but they then continue to walk across the ridge board to the nest, rather than fly to it.

Knowing so little about these beasts that often find their way into the house and seeing their amazing nest drove me to do a little research on the internet. Apparently there is only one species of hornet in the UK known as the European Hornet or Giant Hornet. Its scientific name is Vespa crabro which I think sounds pretty cool. It is normally found in Southern parts of England but is spreading North according to the Natural History Museum website.  This quite surprised me as we are much further North than the hornet’s stronghold down in Exeter and the New Forest. I am also relieved to learn that our native hornet isn’t as aggressive as the notorious wasp and their sting is no more harmful.



The ecology of the hornet is quite interesting; mated queens hibernate throughout winter then start to build a nest once they emerge in spring. Their eggs hatch into sterile females that become ‘workers’.  They increase the size of the nest and collect food for the developing larvae. In late summer, males and fertile females hatch which mate and the females turn into queens. Sadly, the sterile female workers, males and old queen die in the Autumn. Strangely, fertilised (diploid) eggs become females but unfertilised (haploid) eggs become males!


This is a hornet but I didn't dare get close enough to one to take a close up shot so I have borrowed this one from Nigel Jones on Flickr.

Hornets build new nests each year meaning this one will be obsolete sometime towards the end of September. Fantastic news for me as I cant wait to get my mitts on the amazing papery formation!

So, if you come upon a huge humming hornet, don’t panic; it’s unlikely it will hurt you.