First Cutting of the Greensward 2024

This event has become a regular feature as it (possibly) signals the arrival of a warmer climate. Previous reports can be found using these links for 2023 and 2022. It wasn't a great mow in terms of quantity though it was a welcome source of fresh green garden waste for the hot composting bins.

Photo 1: First Cut of our Neighbour's Lawn

There are a few data sampling issues when using the first grass cut of the year as a phenological indicator. Firstly, the decision to perform the first cut of the year is entirely within the realm of my neighbour. Second, I am fairly certain that aesthetics play a more important role than scientific rigour (e.g. making the first cut when the grass is 5 centimetres tall). Third, the date of the last mowing from the previous year may be a confounding factor (variable).

Nevertheless, that is not going to stop me looking for 'reasonable' correlations with weather data. I am discounting other factors (e.g. lawn treatments) and the presence of family pets (dog and cat); the former does not happen and I cannot quantify the latter.

So the first, and perhaps, most obvious factor to consider is the outdoor temperature. In Figure 1, I have plotted the average monthly temperatures (December, January & February) and the average Winter temperatures (DJF) for the past 5 years against the day of the year (Day 1 is January 1st) when the first lawn happened.

Figure 1: Effect of Average Monthly Temperatures on the First Lawn Mow of the Year

December, February and Winter temperatures behave as expected - that is, the warmer the weather the earlier the first cut of the greensward. January is a bit of an anomaly but the correlation is also the worst so we will not read too much into that without more data.

Interestingly, the best correlation by far is with the December average temperature. I recall from memory that grass stops growing at 4 ℃ though according to this article it is 5 ℃. We won't quibble over the odd degree. Soil temperature is probably more important than the air temperature - however, in the absence of severe frosts, air and soil temperature are probably interchangeable for our purposes.

Other factors that could influence the first use of the lawnmower might be (i) rainfall, (ii) sunshine, and (iii) severity and number of frosts.

Rainfall shows no overall correlation with the date of the first grass cut. Generally there is sufficient rain over the winter months - however, in 2023, February was very dry and the first mow was the latest in this time series.

Sunshine hours correlate rather well with the date of the earliest first cut (especially for January and February) but the overall effect is low (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Sunshine Hours vs Date of First Cut

Finally, I had a look at whether the number of frost days during the Winter season could be linked with the date of the first mowing. The data suggests that a higher number of frosts, especially in February, might delay the onset of the lawn mowing season but the relationship was not strong.

As might be expected, there is a temporal relationship between the first snowdrop, the first daffodill and the first grass cut - although the correlation between the first appearance of a daffodil and the first grass cut is much stronger.

Figure 3: Phenology Relationships

In summary, the warmer climate we are experiencing because of climate change can be readily seen in the earlier flowering of plants (snowdrops and daffodils) as well as an earlier start to the growing season after winter (grass).







Day Visit to Forge Mill Needle Museum

 Mary & I had a day with no other commitments so we decided on a day out somewhere. Preferably somewhere new. The weather forecast was for light rain and a gentle breeze so somewhere indoors seemed like a good idea.

Figure 1: Temperature, Average Wind Speed and Rainfall in Hereford (7 am to 7 pm, 13/2/24)

The weather forecast didn't disappoint. Figure 1 plots the temperature, average wind speed and rainfall in Hereford for each 15-minute period between 7 am to 7 pm on the 13th February. The temperature (red) rose steadily through the day 6 ℃ to 11 ℃. Average wind speeds (green) were between 1 to 4 km/h for most of the day apart from a bit of a lull between 3 pm and 5 pm. A persistent drizzle fell for most of the day until around 5 pm when the skies started to clear as we drove home.

We, however, were not in Hereford but in Redditch, a few miles south of Birmingham, visiting the Forge Mill Needle Museum. Without doubt, we could have been in Hereford as far as the weather was concerned. It was indeed a good day to be a duck!

Photo 1: Swans, mallards, tufted ducks (real ones) and moorhens on the Mill Pond at Forge Mill (13/2/24)

The Forge Mill Needle Museum seemed a good option for a wet day due to Mary's interest in embroidery, sowing, knitting, tatting, crocheting, macrame and tapestry. After a friendly welcome from the staff and a tasty lunch (soup and toastie combo) from the Coffee Bar, we paid our £6.80/adult plus £1 for the guide (good value) and set off to explore the museum.

The entrance to the museum on the middle/ground floor led to an exhibition space occupied, during our visit, by a wildlife photographic exhibition. Downstairs, in the basement, are displays and dioramas describing the many processes involved in needlemaking.

Photo 2: Removing burrs and excess metal after the needle eyes had been punched out

I found this the most interesting part of the museum. The ingenuity of the Victorians who developed the machinery needed to speed up the traditional home industry of hand-made needles. It was a dangerous as well as an unhealthy job. The grinders, who sharpened the needles, had a life expectancy of 30-35 years only but earned very good money - when the mill owners tried to introduce extraction equipment to improve the working conditions, the grinders rebelled because they thought it would reduce their pay-rate.

Forge Mill Museum shows the needles were made in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The thirty or so processes needed to make needles have not changed; the machinery has however. The video below shows how needles are made now using the same processes developed in the 1800s. 

Video 1: The Needle Making Processes

On the first floor there were displays of manufactured needles. 

Photo 3: Display of Sewing Needles, Surgical Needles and Fish hooks

Gramophone needles were another mass-produced product until the gramophone was replaced by record players, turntables and styli in the 1950s. And when gramophone needles were no longer required, they repurposed them as the tips or points for darts.

Photo 4: Gramophone Needles

Companies designing and selling fishing tackle (e.g. Allcocks) set up in Redditch because of the production of fish hooks.

Photo 5: Fish Hooks for All fish Types

Photo 6: Fishing Flies/Hooks

And going from the sublime to the ridiculous, these extremely small & delicate surgical eye needles ...

Photo 7: Surgical Eye Needles on a Cushion (approx 6 cm in diameter)

Photo 8: Close-up of Surgical Eye Needle

... and these oversized 6-foot needles used for sowing the buttons on mattresses longways!

Photo 9: Six Foot Mattress Needles

Although the floor area of the Needle Museum was fairly small, we spent a very happy 2 hours taking it all in. We didn't have time to look around the nearby ruins of Bordesley Abbey (it was still raining) or visit the room of artefacts in the reception building. Mary did find time to buy some needles, however, while bought some hot drinks and cake from the Coffee Bar just before it closed.

It was quite a long drive home, due to an unexpected road closure, but we'd both enjoyed our museum visit. 
 

First Garden Daffodil of 2024

Photo 1: First Garden Daffodil 2024

First garden daffodil of 2024 photographed on 10th February (Photo 1). We did see the occasional daffodil on our recent visit (4th February) to The Weir Garden.

The earliest photo of a garden daffodil in 2023 was 19th February (Photo 2).

Photo 2: First Garden Daffodil of 2023 (19th February 2023)

In 2022, the first appearance was on the 10th February ...

Photo 3: First Garden Daffodil of 2022 (10th February 2023)

... and, in 2021, it was the 20th February.

In Figure 1, I have plotted the day in February when the first daffodil flower appeared (x-axis) versus either the mean February temperature or the mean Winter (December/January/February) temperature (y-axis). [Note: mean February temperature for 2024 is only up to the 10th]. With only 4 data points, we shouldn't read too much into the correlation and certainly not infer causation.
Figure 1: Correlation between February/Winter Mean Temperature and Date of First Appearance

Temperature is only one of the factors that might influence how early daffodils flower (other factors might include rainfall, number of frost days, sunshine hours and ground temperatures). Nevertheless, the trend observed in Figure 1 - warmer temperatures encourage earlier flowering - is what we might expect.  While the correlation coefficient (R²) is higher for the Winter temperature relationship, there are too few data points to read anything into this. Maybe next year?



 

Black Coffee in Bed

 Believe it or not, someone has compiled a ranking of the best songs with a coffee flavour. My all time favourite - Black Coffee in Bed by Squeeze - topped the list. Does that mean I have good taste as far as music goes?

Video 1: Black Coffee in Bed by Squeeze

I have been roasting my own coffee for about 5 years now using a basic roaster. Indeed, today is the 'Wood' anniversary of my first roast: Ethiopian Sidamo. 

Video 2: Coffee Roasting - First Crack

I have always bought my green coffee beans from Rave Coffee - they offer a good choice at a reasonable price with free postage & packing on orders over £25 (typically, 5 x 500 g bags).

One of the advantages of roasting your own coffee beans is that you get the opportunity to taste a wide range of flavours from many coffee-producing regions. So far, my roasting efforts have encompassed the produce from 17 different countries (Table 1). You don't get that sort of selection at the local supermarket!

Table 1: Home-roasted Quantities (kg) and Countries

A full list of coffee beans roasted at home is given in Table 2.

Table 2: Country of Origin, Coffee Type/Name and Roasted Quantities (kg)

Country

Coffee Type/Name

Quantity

Brazil

Amecafe Blend

0.5

Brazil

Santos

0.5

Brazil

Zona de Varginha

1.5

Brazil

Fazendre Campestre #109

4.5

Brazil

Swiss Water Decaffeinated

0.5

Burundi

Gisha

0.5

Colombia

La Crystalina

0.5

Colombia

Suarez Project

1.5

Colombia

Monteverde

1.0

Colombia

Villamaria

0.5

Colombia

El Carmen #50

4.0

Colombia

El Carmen Sugarcane Decaffeinated

4.0

Costa Rica

La Candelilla

1.0

East Timor

Raimutin #71

0.5

El Salvador

El Horno

3.0

Ethiopia

Sidamo

5.5

Ethiopia

Yirgacheffe Bollodu #1

0.5

Guatemala

Bosques de San Francisco

3.5

Guatemala

Bueno Vista Concepsion

0.5

Honduras

Clave de Sol Honey (organic)

0.5

India

Monsooned Malabar

2.0

Indonesia

Kerinci

0.5

Indonesia

V Tani Gayo #100

3.0

Indonesia

Ihtiyeri Keti Ara (IKA)

1.0

Kenya

Tinganga Estate

0.5

Kenya

Kagumoini AA

0.5

Kenya

Ndaroini AB#10

0.5

Kenya

Tegu AB

1.0

Kenya

Kii

0.5

Mexico

#88 Paraje los Machos

0.5

Papua New Guinea

Elimbaria

1.0

Papua New Guinea

Lamari #51

1.5

Peru

Cajamarca Regional

1.0

Rwanda

Baho #87

0.5

Sumatra

Tano Batak

1.0

Sumatra

Mandheling

2.5


In total, I have roasted 52 kg during my five years of home roasting. As I would typically roast 500 g at a time, this works out at a roast every 2½ weeks. Very easy in the spring, summer and autumn when at least one day of the week is dry - roasting always takes place outdoors as there can be quite a bit of smoke and stem. Logistics in winter can be a little trickier so it helps to plan ahead.

Apart from the wide selection of coffee beans available to home roasters, the other major advantage of home roasting is that freshly roasted beans taste so much better. Even if you do not roast them yourself, it is still worth buying roasted coffee beans for home-grinding because these remain fresh for 3 - 4 weeks. Ground coffee, on the other hand will start to go stale after about one week.

[Note: green coffee beans stay fresh for 6 - 12 months so you can keep a small stock on hand ready to prepare freshly roasted coffee]

Can you save money by roasting your own green coffee beans? Let's do a few sums!
  • Firstly, you'll need a roaster. The type I use costs £90 on Amazon although I paid somewhat less than this 5 years ago. If I assume my current machine lasts for another 4 years (9 years in total) then the capital outlay would add £1 per 900 g of roasted coffee. [Note: processed green coffee beans contain about 10-12 % water that is reduced to about 2 % in the final roasted product. So, 1 kg of green coffee beans will produce about 900 g of roasted beans]
  • My 1.2 kW machine takes about 20 minutes to roast the beans, so just under 1 kWh to roast 1 kg of coffee beans. I estimate electricity costs to be around £0.30 per kg 
  • Green coffee beans cost between £10 - £25 per kg provided you avoid the silly prices being asked for Jamaican Blue Mountain green beans (£130/kg). Since a kilogram of green beans will yield about 900 g of roasted coffee, this works out at £11 - £28 per kilogram for roasted coffee beans
  • Adding up all the costs for home-roasting (capital outlay for the roaster, electricity usage and the cost of the green beans), you can expect to pay somewhere between £12.50 and £30 per kilogram; typically, £20 to £25 per kilogram
  • What is the price for roasted coffee beans? £25 - £45 per kg seems a fairly typical range, with an average around £35/kg
  • Consequently, do-it-yourself coffee roasting not only gives you fresher and better tasting coffee (IMHO), it also saves you money - about 30% - 40%.
Finally, I would like to give a shout out to the coffee blenders. While I'm very happy enjoying my single origin home-roasted coffees, I very much appreciate those skilled in the art of blending different origin coffees. Which is why I still enjoy seeking out good coffee from independent coffee shops.

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