Water Meters - Good or Bad?

Water Meter - The Case For 

Welsh Water (Dŵr Cymru) supply our potable water and take away our sewerage and waste water. For 2020/21, the cost would be £1,143.92 based on the rateable value (RV) of the property. With only two of us living here now, the option to install a water meter, and just pay for what we use, had to be considered. Fortunately, this would not be an irreversible decision because we could revert back to the RV system anytime within 2 years of having the meter installed.

We consider ourselves to be relatively frugal with our use of potable water in the house but we're a little concerned about the amount used in the garden. We use an automatic washing machine and a dishwasher though both are fairly new and, at least, A-class efficiency. We take showers rather than baths, have water-saving toilets and do not wash the car. All water companies offer a 'calculator' to estimate your water usage and this indicated our metered water bill would be about half the cost of the RV-based one. While the 'calculator' was probably reasonably accurate, humans often show a response bias when answering surveys: for example, underestimating how much they drink, overestimating how much they exercise. Hopefully, we were being honest and realistic in our responses!

Currently, Welsh Water charge £1.3689 per cubic metre (1000 litres) for potable water and £1.6531 per cubic metre for sewerage. In addition, there are daily service charges of  £0.1052 (potable) and  £0.2563 (sewerage). If I subtract the fixed annual service charge (£131.92) from my original RV-based cost of £1,143.92, I can expect to save money provided I spend less than £1012.00 on metered water/sewerage charges. This works out at 335 cubic metres per year or 28 cubic metres per month.

Water Meter - Installation and First Impressions

The meter was installed on the 18th March 2020; just before the COVID-19 lockdown. The engineer asked to see the position of the mains stopcock and then spent 15 minutes cleaning out the outside access point and fitting the water meter. Quick and easy although access to read the meter was not very convenient.


In order to establish typical usage levels (and check for leakages), I have taken meter readings at monthly intervals.

Date 18/3/20 18/4/20 18/5/20 19/6/20
Meter 00000 00008 00020 00032
Spring 2020 has been very dry so I anticipate water usage has been higher than normal (unless drier springs and summers are the 'new' normal). At the moment, installing a water meter is proving to be a money-saving option.

Making Vegetable Soups in a Vitamix Blender

Vegetable Soup in a Vitamix 5000 Blender 

Potato and carrot soup from blender

The high power Vitamix range of food blenders have been around for nearly 100 years. We bought our model 5000 around ten years ago after seeing a demonstration at the Malvern Three Counties Showground in 2009 or 2010. Certainly not the cheapest on the market but probably the best value because of their longevity (7-year warranty). They will chop, blend, and smooth virtually anything and you can make your own peanut/almond butter, houmous, nut milks, doughs, batters, sorbets and ice creams, smoothies and, the subject of this post, soups. It is, also, very easy to use and clean although a little noisy.

Cream of Courgette Soup (vegan)

This is the easiest soup to make and requires no pre-cooking. Simply pop the ingredients into the blender in the order given below and whizz up a hot soup in 7 minutes on high speed.

400g courgettes (wash and chop roughly)
50g cashew nuts
1 tbsp bouillon powder or paste
1 clove garlic
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 litre cold water

(i) if you prefer a thinner 'cup-of-soup' then reduce courgettes to 300g
(ii) cashew nuts give the soup its creamy texture and flavour
(iii) no need to peel or crush the garlic, just throw it all in
(iv) the garlic & herb flavour is more intense so use less than you would in conventional soup preparation
(v) bouillon adds body as well as flavour. No additional salt needed.
(vi) the high-speed blades heat the contents up to about 70 ℃ (friction)

Leek and Potato Soup (vegan)

Preparation time is a little longer but well worth the effort. It is very important to part-cook the potatoes before adding to the Vitamix otherwise the soup quickly thickens and reduces the mixing speed.

350g potatoes, peeled and chopped
250g leeks, prepared and sliced
50g cashew nuts
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp bouillon paste/powder
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
rapeseed oil for frying
1.2 litres cold water
1 tsp teriyaki sauce/soy sauce (optional)
1 tbsp pickled Jalopeno peppers (optional)

Cook potatoes in microwave oven (750W) for 5 minutes and fry the leeks in oil. Add potato and leeks to Vitamix followed by the other ingredients. Run Vitamix on high speed for 7 minutes and your hot soup is ready.

(i) use onions, spring onions or chives if you don't have leeks
(ii) 1.2 litres is the maximum volume of the Vitamix 5000
(iii) the Jalopeno peppers were grown in my polytunnel and pickled at home
(iv) other herb/spice combinations work well. For example, try frying some cumin or smoked paprika with the leeks

Spicy Roast Squash Soup (vegan)

In this recipe, I have used home-roasted squash from the freezer.

600g roast squash (partially defrosted in microwave)
half a large onion (125g)
50g cashew nuts
1 tbsp bouillon powder/paste
2 tsp cumin (ground)
1 tbsp ginger (ground)
rapeseed oil for frying
1 litre cold water

Fry the onion and spices in oil and add to squash in the blender. Add cashew nuts, bouillon and water and blend on high for 7 minutes.

(i) A thick winter soup. Reduce the amount of squash to give a thinner soup

Leftover Soup (vegan)

Soup is a great way to use up any leftovers to produce a nutritious meal or snack. Raw courgettes (whole, unpeeled), pumpkin, squash or marrows (peeled and deseeded) make great bases for Vitamix soups; however, if you roast them you can get a richer flavour and they freeze well for later use. Roots and tubers (potatoes, carrots, parsnips, sweet potato, etc) need to be part-cooked - microwaving 400g for 5 minutes on full power is sufficient. Include stock (cube, powder, paste or home-made) and cashew nuts and you have the soup base which you can flavour however you want. Smoked paprika, cumin, chillies, garlic and mixed herbs are my preferred flavourings. This recipe was made from those sad vegetables you always find when clearing out the salad drawer in the fridge.

2 floppy sticks of celery (chopped)
2 bendy carrots (washed, topped and tailed)
2 pliable parsnips (peeled)
1 winter onion from the garden
50g cashew nuts
1tbsp Knorr's vegetable bouillon paste
1 clove garlic, au naturelle
Jalopeno peppers (pickled), to taste
1 litre of cold water

Fry onions and celery in a little oil. Microwave (750W) carrots and parsnips for 5 minutes. Put everything in the blender for 7 minutes on high power.
Garlic and pickled jalopeno peppers for flavouring




Return of the Nematodes - Slug and Snail Control

Slugs & Snails

After the dry and sunny Spring 2020, the Met Office promised a day of drizzle at the beginning of meteorological summer. Ideal weather for applying slug nematodes in the Kitchen Garden. This biological treatment is my main line of defence against most gardener’s worst nightmare. Fortunately, the packet of NemaslugTM had arrived the week before and was chilling out in the fridge.

Snails also have voracious appetites for tender greens and we certainly get our fair share in the garden. NemaslugTM does not control snails. Fortunately, snails are easier to spot in the garden so just keep a wary eye out for them and collect for disposal. They do, apparently, have a homing instinct so throwing them into next door's garden provides only temporary relief and they are likely to be very hungry when they get back! Any snails we find usually end up in our hot composters where they enjoy a brief period of warmth before they are converted to soil nutrients. Other 'slug treatments' are discussed later.

NemaslugTM is administered as an aqueous dispersion, preferably to damp soil, and then watered in. So before and/or after rain is a good choice but a steady all-day drizzle is best. My first lot of nematodes were applied in mid-April, as soon as the soil was sufficiently warm (>5oC), and about a week before I start planting out those tender green vegetable plants that slugs love to devour. This first treatment coincided with a very dry spell so extra effort was needed to prewet the soil before application and then watering-in the nematodes afterwards.

This second application was going to be a doddle even though it would mean getting wet - at least it was warm rain. Under the cover of the polytunnel, I set out my basic kit:

Nemaslug preparation

  1. Trug, 20-25 litre capacity, to prepare the nematode stock solution

  2. Watering can (5-litre) with very coarse rose - I drilled larger holes in my rose to ensure the nematode dispersion did not clog it

  3. Hosepipe with trigger gun - set to ‘centre’ to give a forceful spray, without too much splashing, in order to efficiently mix the diluted nematode stock solution

  4. Measuring jug - I use a one-litre plastic milk bottle with the top few centimetres cut off and marked at 0.5-litre - for subsampling the stock solution

  5. Stick for stirring the nematode stock solution prior to sampling

The 100 m2 pack of NemaslugTM is just sufficient for my Kitchen Garden. The instructions tell you to disperse all the nematodes in 10 litres of water, leave for 10 minutes, mix well and then dilute 0.5 litre of this stock solution to 5 litres in a watering can (treats up to 5 m2). I prefer to make the initial stock solution up to 20 litres so that each 0.5-litre subsample made up to 5 litres will treat 2.5 m2 of soil. I find this suits the sizes of my individual veg/fruit plots better. I have tried the hose-end feeder but it is more difficult to control in my small Kitchen Garden with its numerous raised beds - it is better suited to treating larger areas.

Hose end feeder spray

Alternative Slug & Snail Controls

Every gardener has their favourite tried-and-tested method for dealing with slugs. I’ve lost count of the slug treatments I have tried over the years. I try to garden organically so metaldehyde slug pellets are a definite no-no especially since we are trying to encourage beneficial birds, insects, mammals and amphibians into the garden. Basically, protecting your plants against a slug onslaught comes down to either (i) bumping off the little, and not so little, blighters, or (ii) erecting a barrier to make the slug think twice about whether there are easier pickings elsewhere. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is doing field trials on various control options and it is worthwhile checking in periodically to see the results.

  • NemaslugTM is the most expensive but also the most effective control in my kitchen garden. It may be less effective on clay soils. Each application gives about 6-weeks protection and there are no dead bodies to clear up afterwards. I use two applications to cover the period from mid-April to mid-July by which time the plants are big enough and sturdy enough to survive a slug attack. Nematodes do their work underground so you might want to consider additional defences to combat slugs that live above ground. I only treat the Kitchen Garden with nematodes so unwelcome visitors from other parts of the garden are always possible.

  • My next favourite anti-slug device is the  ‘hosta halo’. A remarkably effective barrier that can be used on its own or in conjunction with other treatments such as NemaslugTM. I am always amazed at how well these work and they are effective for snails as well. After the initial outlay, these are very cost-effective; many of our 'haloes' are over 10 years old. However, I suggest you do not provide 'leaf bridges' for our mollusc friends as shown in the picture below. They can be used for vegetables and flowers; just remember to remove them before the plant gets too big otherwise they will be on show for the whole growing season.

    hosta halo anti slug device
  •  I always keep a spray bottle of Grazer's Slugs and Snails treatment (calcium-based deterrent) and a bottle of Bayer Organic SlugBait (iron phosphate slugkiller). These should always be used sparingly.

  • Slug traps baited with cheap beer, lager or alternative attractants work extremely well placed on soil, paths and in the greenhouse. There are plenty of homemade variants or you can go for a commercial option like I did. Be warned though that the resultant 'slug soup' is a little disgusting and needs to be changed regularly. I've heard suggestions slug traps might actually attract slugs into the garden and make the problem worse - presumably only if they consume all your plants on the way to the slug trap.

  • I have never found eggshells, coffee grounds, copper tape, salt or similar physical barriers to be particularly effective. This year, I tried sheep wool pellets for the first time. I had not yet applied nematodes but I can report that there was no obvious slug damage. However, the local bird population (mainly sparrows and blackbirds) disturbed the protective 'wool mats' that form around the plants, possibly using it as a source of nesting material.

  • One option is to only grow plants that slugs do not regard as their food source but this is quite limiting to the kitchen gardener. You could also try planting a sacrificial crop of, for example, lettuce hoping they will eat this rather than your crops. However, this assumes the slug spends time studying the menu before deciding to go with its favourite anyway. Slugs are night-time eaters and prefer warm moist conditions - water your plants in the early morning.

  • There are still plenty of alternatives should none of the above options work. Some are rather extreme (electrified slug fences, keeping ducks) and others less so. You'll find plenty of options by 'googling' it.

Best Slug/Snail Joke

I entered my pet snail into a race and removed its shell to make it faster...

Unfortunately, it only made it more sluggish.

Additions to The Aviary

Things have progressed in the Aviary and there are some newcomers - also some jockeying for position. (link to previous article on the Aviary

We now have added: blue tit, woodpecker, robin and lesser black backed gull. The latter are pests in Hereford. They nest on chimney tops and fly round aggressively if they have young nearby. Also extremely noisy even in the middle of the night.

Some of the birds are roughly life sized eg sparrow, woodpecker, magpie but some definitely not to scale. The robin in the book was rather small so I adjusted the sparrow pattern and stitched in some of the colour instead of using felt.

We have been enjoying the presence of swifts recently since they arrived here on 4th May. I won’t be attempting a knitted version though. Up to 20 have been seen in the evening sky on these warm days.

Updated Knitted Aviary

It’s a small world...

Last year one of my birthday presents (!) was a digital microscope. I’ve always enjoyed using them since my days at the John Innes Institute in the 1970s when I used one to look at the stages of pollen development in anthers - particularly tobacco and Datura - part of our work on pollen culture.

DM4 Digital Microscope

The one I bought is a DM4. It has a 4.3” screen and a rechargeable battery so can be taken anywhere. Unfortunately it didn’t come with any instructions so to start I thought I would give you the benefit of my trial and error. It works like this:

DM4 Digital Microscope Instructions

Switch on: long press on ON button on right hand side.
Set time and other microscope features: short press MENU, then use arrows and OK button.

When you switch on it is in video setting.
To change to camera: long press on MENU
To review photos/videos: another long press on MENU
Press again to come back to video.
When in appropriate setting then press OK to record or take photo.
To stamp date & time on photo: in video setting press MENU (see photo) and select Time Stamp.

It is very easy once you’ve got the hang of it.
The cost was about 40. Well worth it I think and something children would enjoy using.

Today (2nd June 2020) I went round the garden looking for tiny flowers. Here are the results with one or two surprises.


This is a real favourite and self seeds all over the garden. It’s easy to pull out where you don’t want it.

Forget Me Not Plant
Forget Me Not Flower
Forget Me Not Stem

BORAGE - Borago officinalis

This also self seeded from last year’s plants. They are annuals.

Borage Plant
Borage middle of flower
Middle of the flower; the blue anthers were a surprise
Borage Glandular Hairs
The glandular hairs on the sepal are very obvious

MOTHERWORT - Leonurus cardiaca

According to Culpepper this plant takes melancholy vapours from the heart and makes women joyful mothers of children. Not a very exciting plant to do all that but obviously worth cultivating. The tiny pink flowers don’t show up much on the plant but close up they are very exotic.

Motherwort plant
Motherwort Flower Closeup
Flower closeup


This is a pretty plant which seeds around and produces edible fruit which are quite small.

Alpine Strawberry Plant
Alpine Strawberry Flower
Centre of flower with unexpected visitor

PROCUMBENT PEARLWORT - Sagina procumbens

We have two Sarracenia plants growing in a pot on the patio. Yesterday I realised there was something else growing at the base of each plant which must have been in the original pots when I bought them. An unusual feature is that it doesn’t have any petals, and a surprising number of very small seeds.

Procumbent Pearlwort
Procumbent Pearlwort under magnifying glass
The leaves have a tiny bristle only visible under the microscope
Procumbent Pearlwort Closeup

BLACK ELDER - Sambucus nigra - ‘Black Lace’

A really beautiful tree especially when in bloom as it is at the moment.

Black Elder Plant
Black Elder Magnified
The anthers have released the pollen

LADY’S MANTLE - Alchemilla mollis

A lovely acid green which looks great and lasts well in a vase.

Ladys Mantle Plant
Lady's Mantle Plant Magnified


This enjoys living in the Paradise Garden. There are two big clumps of it.

Thyme Plant
Thyme Plant Closeup
Flower closeup

MOON DAISY - Leucanthemum

This grows at the end of the Secret Garden in part shade. It shows up well at dusk. A member of the Asteraceae with a complex flower head. Ray florets on the outside and little disc florets in the middle. There was another surprise little visitor, about 1mm long - possibly a thrip.

Moon Daisy Plant
Moon Daisy Disc Florets
Disc florets

HAIRY TARE - Vicia hirsuta

Another wild flower that appeared in the garden. The flowers are very tiny and look white until magnified. Distinguished from the other tares as it only has 2 seeds in the pod.

Vicia Hirsuta Plant
Vicia Hirsuta Magnified
Flowers closeup

Potatoes and Photovoltaic Performance

Spring 2020 (March-April-May) was the sunniest since records began in 1929 according to the Met Office. This immediately followed the wettest February since rainfall records began in 1862 and it is very likely to be the driest May in England since 1896 (it is 30th May as I write this). And let’s not forget that in Hereford we had 2 frost days in May (12th and 14th) which was a new experience for me in this part of the world.

Although these unusual weather patterns cannot be directly attributed to climate change, our understanding is that we can expect more of these weather extremes as the planet warms.

The Potato Patch

Weather extremes do present challenges to the gardener. My potato patch certainly suffered some frost damage (Figure 1) although the plants in potato bags seemed to escape (Figure 2). My Davis weather station recorded a temperature of 0 °C (measured six foot above ground) on both frost days so at ground level the temperature was probably just below freezing.

Potatoes during frost
Figure 1

Potato bags
Figure 2

Currently, the main issue in the garden is lack of rainfall. Our rainbutts (2000 litres) have run dry and we are having to use our metered water supply.

Photovoltaic Panels

The number of ‘clear blue sky’ days during Spring 2020 has been amazing. Has this been due, in part, to reduced air traffic during the Covid-19 lockdown? The record-breaking sunshine, as noted by the Met Office, has also delivered record-breaking electricity production from my PV roof panels (Table 1).

Table 1: PV Generation (kWh) for Spring 2020

374 383 515 1272 
 2013299 477 512 1288 
 2014344 443 510 1297 
 2015351 563 654 1568 
 2016343 497 573 1413 
 2017366 483 496 1345 
 2018303 409 550 1262 
 2019384 509 582 1475 
 2020439 582 700 *1721 

* Provisional value calculated from current value (519) on 30/5/20 and projected weather forecast up to 8/6/20. Note: monthly PV generation data reported from 9th of the month to 8th of following month (e.g. March data is from 9th March to 8th April inclusive).

2020 set records for highest ever PV generation for March, April and May. Spring (MAM) 2020 PV output was 10% more than the previous highest (2015) and 26% higher than the mean for the previous 8 years. In fact, the differences should be slightly larger because I estimate PV performance has, for example, dropped about 4% since 2015.

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