Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Product Review: Weather@Home

The Weather@Home base station
I'm a bit of a weather geek, so I was delighted when Oregon Scientific offered one of their Weather@Home systems for me to try.

The kit comprises the pictured base unit which measures indoor temperature and humidity, plus barometric pressure and one smaller unit which is placed outdoors and measures temperature and humidity only.

The base unit shows both the indoor and outdoor data and up to five outdoor sensors can connected up, as long as these are within 50 metres of the base unit. The pictured top set of results can be cycled round for the inspection of the outdoor data.

The time, trending information (little arrows showing whether the readings are up, down or remaining  the same), moon phase and a 12-hour forecast complete the information on view. The unit can also be connected up via bluetooth to a tablet or mobile phone using the Weather@Home app, which downloads 7 days-worth of hourly data.

An instruction booklet and 4xAA alkaline batteries complete the kit supplied, so everything is ready to go once the batteries are installed. I found everything easy to set up, though the screenshots in the booklet didn't match those I found on my tablet. I'd say I connected up my tablet and the outdoor sensor by accident rather than design as I'm sure it didn't quite happen as the booklet says.

The booklet has thorough instructions for placing the outdoor sensor - no more than 5 feet high and in a sheltered spot away from direct sunlight and rain as these can affect the results. This proved quite tricky to comply with, though I've managed to find a discrete spot at the front of the house.

There isn't the same guidance given for the base unit and this is where I found a possible problem with the data collected. I put both indoor and outdoor units next to each on the kitchen table and they had completely different readings. I think that's partly explained by the base unit being black and the outdoor sensor white - I saw the biggest difference when there was bright sunshine streaming through our patio doors. We saw a maximum reading of over 35oC when it clearly wasn't that hot - I've now sited the base unit in our hall, away from any windows.

Judging by the outdoor sensor's red light flashing, it looks like readings are taken every 40 seconds and it takes almost as long for the reading to update the base unit. The app shows hourly readings, and it's not clear if this is an average reading taken for each hour. These readings are usually about an hour behind the time of viewing and downloading the data via bluetooth takes up to a minute to complete.

Judging by the tablet's time and the graph, 10 o'clock's data has yet to be uploaded

I love looking at the graphs for each day, though some caution is needed with interpreting the graph for the latest day as this shows the last 24 hours of data. NB I haven't bothered correcting the barometric readings for sea level as I'd rather know the actual reading for where I am, not the corrected levels as used by weather forecasters. Also note this information is only available via the app.

Pros

  • Satisfies this weather geek's desire for information that's closer to home
  • Easy to set up
  • Base unit display is easy to read
  • Suitable for most gardens (if the outdoor sensor is placed within 50 metres of the base station)
  • Ability to have readings from different locations, especially if additional sensors are purchased
  • Good for trending information
Cons
  • There's a question mark over the data's accuracy and unit calibration (it would never be as accurate as e.g. Met Office data anyway as there are precise requirements for the way instruments are set up)
  • Guidance on where to site the base unit is needed
  • Barometric information isn't displayed on the base unit
  • The 12-hour forecast didn't always reflect the reality
  • The app graphs could be clearer - only midday and the date change are shown on the time axis and I had to zoom in a lot to see any minor variations in barometric pressure
  • Only 7 days-worth of data available, so a fortnight's holiday would result in a gap in the data
  • The data can't be exported into e.g. a spreadsheet, which is something I'd particularly like to do. I'd also like to display the information here on Veg Plotting.

The length of battery life and corresponding warning information, plus performance in very hot or cold temperatures has yet to be tested. According to the booklet this should not be a problem for Chippenham or most other climates.

The system I tested retails at £59.99 and additional outdoor sensors are £19.99 each.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Hairy Bittercress: The 30 Day Challenge

Hairy bittercress in a paving crack by my front door

My garden's overrun with hairy bittercress this year. It even greets us by the front door when we arrive home. How did it happen? I'm sure it's because the latest specimens are tiny and almost unnoticeable. When I find them it's almost too late; their seeds sproing everywhere when picked. Their spread is relentless.

My usual solution to this problem is to add them to our salads. They're edible, so what could be a better revenge than to eat our weeds? Sadly, the latest specimens are too small; there's as much cardboard-like seed bearing stalk as edible basal rosette. Not enough of a tasty morsel to include in our dinner.

I may have helped with this plant's natural selection. By weeding out the more noticeable, normal sized specimens, I've allowed the smaller, almost unnoticeable ones to take hold. In some cases, I only spot them when the seed heads poke their noses above the patio. You have to admire that tenacity for survival, even if it gives this gardener a bit of a headache.

I've looked to see if my observations are rooted in scientific fact, sadly to no avail as yet. However, I did find an interesting study from Clemson University, which investigated its seed production, dispersal and control in propagation beds.

In some ways it's the perfect weed. Seed production is year-round; each plant can produce thousands of seeds; germination rates are high, its explosive dispersal mechanism spreads seeds far and wide, and the seeds themselves are sticky. My admiration increased.

I was also a little daunted, but then I spotted a potential chink in the armour. The study found 90% of the seed germinates in 13 days, so if I'm like Mad-eyed Moody and employ Constant Vigilance, I have a good chance of gaining control over my garden's population.

I'm going out every evening on a bittercress hunt and I weed out any culprits I find. Each one is removed carefully, so any seed dispersal activity is minimised. I'll keep this going for a month, which allows some extra time for the other 10% to make their appearance and to round up any scattered offspring.

Wish me luck.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Cowslip Delight

The sheet of cowslips which greet us at the entrance of our estate

April is proving to be a vintage month for public planting here in Chippenham. After Monday's guerrilla'd Jewel Garden, here's the sheet of cowslips which currently greets us when we enter our estate. These get better and better every year.

Sometimes it's the simple things which make the most difference.

A tummy level view of our estate's cowslips
The tummy level view - can you spot the dandelion?
The cowslips tall her pensioners be;
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours;
In those freckles live their savours;
I must go seek some dewdrops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear.

From: 'A Fairy Song', in A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

A close-up view of one of the cowslips

It took the sharp observation of Shakespeare's verse for me to spot the rubies amongst the gold. Then my camera added a pearl to one of the cowslip's ears :)
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