New Year, New Normal?

I’m referring to our weather.

There’s a basic difference between weather (the stuff that goes on from day to day) and climate (defined as averages taken over at least a 3-decade period). Admittedly, what we’ve been experiencing recently by way of floods might just be weather.

On the other hand, the fingerprints of climate change appear to be all over this year’s weather (if you’ll forgive the mixing of metaphors).

It gets wet in the wintertime. This is not news. Being an island sat in the path of prevailing maritime winds, the UK can achieve ‘wet’ all year round but generally we do get more in the winter than the summer. We had floods in 2012-13 that were pretty devastating. We had floods in 2013-14 that were even worse. Now we’ve had record flooding across a massive sweep of the country starting in 2015 and more still forecast for the next few days at least.

In case anyone missed it, there was a hurricane in the Atlantic in January 2016. They aren’t supposed to show up until June. There was also an iceberg spotted off Newfoundland, where it shouldn’t have been until April. Greenland suffered a mysterious melt-water event just after Storm Frank dumped a load of hot air over that area of the world, at the beginning of the month. Hurricane Alex dumped more hot air into the Arctic last week. Arctic sea-ice, which should be growing rapidly in the depths of the Arctic winter, is at very low levels and practically stalled for a bit in early January (look at the graph of sea-ice extent on the link and you can see the growth of ice flat-lined for several days).

I’m not just listing random events, by the way. All will become clear.

All of this brings me to Storm Jonas. Like Storm Frank, Jonas started life by walloping the US East Coast and is now moving offshore, through very much warmer than usual North Atlantic waters, heading for a meeting with a pool of colder than usual water in mid-Atlantic. When Frank encountered the cool pool, the effect was to supercharge the storm with increased winds and moisture, and Frank then blew right into Britain. Jonas is forecast to do exactly the same, and should (if the forecasts are correct) be landing on our heads from about Tuesday onwards, before swinging up the coast of Norway and delivering, yet again, a dollop of hot air from lower latitudes into the Arctic.

There’s two different points here.

The first one is, should the UK be expecting storms to come off the US continent, spin up again in mid-Atlantic and smack heavily into the UK as a regular thing from now on? We’re on the side of a hill, well above local water courses, but we now know which of our sheds goes below the water table level first and if it rains non-stop for eight days, as it did during/after Frank in this area, we’re going to need a sump-pump in that shed. I’m still in the process of fitting a raised floor to Jet’s cage, because he did not take kindly to 2 inches of water underfoot! The freezers are up on bricks as a temporary measure to keep them running safely. (Bailing out a shed, on and off, for two days is not an activity that I enjoy very much.) Should we be planning for average precipitation to go up from here on in?

Of course, the point about storms gaining force in mid-Atlantic before they hit us brings us to the cool pool. This is an area of the North Atlantic that’s been anomalously colder than average (one of the very few places in the world that still is!) for a couple of years now. It seems to be cooler because it’s fresher water than the normal run of Atlantic seawater, and it’s fresh, cold water because it’s melting off Greenland. Fresh water is less dense than salt water, so Greenland’s run-off is sitting on top of the warmer Atlantic salt water like a lid.

This brings us to the second point about these storms. Since the 1940s, when the Arctic temperatures started being recorded regularly, the temperature in the Arctic has risen to or above freezing 3 times, all in December. Storm Frank made it four times, just barely getting under the bar at the very end of 2015. Jonas might do it again this coming week, which would be a first for the records. (Hurricane Alex, incidentally, pumped air across Western Greenland that was 16-22 degrees C above average – but didn’t quite get the temperatures above freezing).

The more hot air goes into the Arctic, the faster the ice melts. The faster the ice melts, the more fresh, cold water goes into the North Atlantic cool pool. The bigger the cool pool, the bigger the storms, and the bigger the storms, the more hot air goes into the Arctic? (Note that question mark – it’s not proven yet, but I’m starting to wonder!)

As a side note, the bigger the cool pool the more it stalls the Gulf Stream going up into northern waters, so there’s a sort of backlog of hot water sat alongside the US east coast as a result, both raising sea levels and providing lots of energy and water vapour for coastal storms like Jonas.

This is beginning to look suspiciously like a positive feedback loop or, as my mother prefers to call it, a vicious circle.

If it is a positive feedback loop, then each time anything increases in that loop, everything else increases too, which means we can expect more ice melt to lead to more cool pool, leading to bigger storms, leading to more warm air going north, leading to more ice melt….. etc.

It’s always been said by climatologists that the Arctic will see most climate change, faster than the rest of the planet. Feedback loops (all, alas, positive ones) will kick in there before anywhere else. There’s another feedback loop that might tie in with the cool-pool/bigger storms/more ice melt loop, and that’s the simple fact that dark water reflects only 10% of the light (and heat) that falls on it, whereas white snow/ice reflects 90%. Replace Arctic ice and snow with water and the energy absorbed in the Arctic rises, which causes temperature rise, which causes more melting….. you get the picture.

Last week, NASA and NOAA joined the various other meteorological/climate science organisations in unveiling their analysis of 2015 global temperatures and, if you line up the 16 hottest years on record, 15 of them come since 2000 (and the other was 1998, which was freakishly hot due to a very big El Nino that year). Greenland ice melt has been accelerating and Antarctic melt looks like it will be, too.

Time to get that sump-pump fitted in the shed.

Take your eye off the predators…..

And you lose livestock.

It’s been lousy weather up here for a few days; rain and wind non-stop for day. Normal autumn weather, in fact. All the same, my mother (who does the chickens) decided last night that she wouldn’t go out in the rain and mud to shut up the chickens. They go to bed in their house by themselves, we just shut the door of their inner run, attached to the house, and let them out again in the morning.

We’ve been phasing this particular bunch of chickens out anyway – they’re older, they’re not laying so well, so I killed the two who like to escape the run and stalk about the garden the other day (they’re in the freezer at the moment, they’ll keep the ferrets fed very nicely for part of the winter) and we were considering when to kill the rest. All the same, it’s beyond annoying to find one of them beheaded and partially eaten at the far end of the run this morning.

My mother’s feeling guilty because, of course, she left the henhouse door open for once.

The ferrets are feeling happy because they’ve got the rest of the corpse.

I’ve shut the lower windows on the rabbitry – they don’t need the extra ventilation any more and I don’t want anything jumping in and trying to steal the bunnies. We’re down to 16 at the moment – next year’s 6 breeding stock and 10 youngsters from Ebony’s second litter who’ll be due for the freezer in December.

I went and poked around the chicken run looking for evidence of what killed the marran who routinely slept in the nestbox – the others sleep on the perch in the run by preference. There were feathers here and there, but then the hens are moulting at the moment anyway. It’s been raining like stink and then there were Mum’s wellies tramping about, plus various live chickens padding around, so finding any other tracks was difficult. I did manage to spot one mammalian paw-print, tucked away in a less-travelled bit of the run under the shelter of an overhanging bush; a long straight imprint from a back leg below the hock, where the creature had shifted its weight back before hauling a dead hen up a slight rise, and at the front end of that, a relatively small, rounded paw-print with four toes and no claws.

Felis catus, the common or garden house cat. It’s uncommon to find a nice clear paw-print from a house-cat since they usually put their back feet exactly the prints from their front-paws, but given this one was wrestling a chicken (presumably dead by then) up a slight incline and round a corner, he (I’m guessing – but we have more wandering toms pass through our garden than queens) didn’t quite manage it this time.

I went back into the house for a camera but by the time I’d come back the chickens had wandered all over the prints and destroyed them. They were possibly attracted there to see what I’d been up to (might have been food….) but hey-ho, that’s life.

Nothing to be done about it but make sure the door of the inner run is always shut in future, whatever the weather!

Not Lazarus; just me, back again…

It’s been a while. I offer no excuses, since there’s no earthly reason why I *must* scribble my random ideas down regularly – nor for anyone to read them, come to that…

Despite the title, I haven’t been dead or even mildly indisposed, merely getting on with life. There was a family holiday in Argyll, during which I ticked seeing the Corryvreckan whirlpool off my bucket list and my sister and brother-in-law decided to chuck living in the south-east and move to Mull instead. It’ll be interesting to watch them adapt to living on a pretty small rural island after decades in Essex and working in the City, but they’ll probably cope, they’re both intelligent and adaptable adults with plenty of life-experience.

Following my bunny population explosion in April, Ebony went on to rear 5 kits, Trudy and Ivory all of theirs and Jezebel 7 of her original 10 kits. Jezebel also suddenly gave me the first case of mastitis I’ve seen in a rabbit in 40 years of being around bunnies, so once the kits were old enough to wean I culled her – rabbits are fiendishly difficult to cure of mastitis and while I did get antibiotics and anti-inflammatories for her from the vet to keep her going until the kits were old enough, it was obvious the infection wasn’t clearing up so I put her down rather than extend her suffering.

Jezebel’s kits did fine and are now variously in the freezer, the dogs and the ferrets. I’ve sold a few of the rex kits and the others are growing nicely and will be heading freezer-wards in September, except for one harlequin doe kit I’m keeping back from Ivory’s litter as future breeding stock.

Silver’s had three chances to prove himself a fertile stud buck and struck out every time, so he’ll shortly be going into the freezer, too. I picked up a couple of unrelated buck kits from a breeder down south on Tuesday so I’m not relying only on Jet as a stud buck, anyway.

Ebony, who made such an incredible mess of her first litter, has had another litter and pulled herself together very nicely. She has 10 kits in the nest – two black, three ermines and 5 harlies, though one’s a runt. Harlies seem to be the ones that sell so that’s excellent. Ivory’s refusing to mate again and I will probably cull her out and keep one of Ebony’s doe kits to replace her.

Delilah (the sole remaining NZW doe) had a litter of 6, which is pathetic by NZW standards, then lost one but the remaining 5 are now just about old enough to wean and very well grown, so they’ll be separated from her in the next week or so. They should be ready to kill in about 6 more weeks.

Apart from that, the garden is flourishing, the country’s still heading gently to the dogs and I’ve sold both my air-rifles. The air-rifle licensing bill is merely waiting for Royal Assent and then everyone in Scotland with an air-rifle will be expected to produce fire-arm cabinet, proof of “need” to own, insurance, and a cheque-book before they can pick up a tin of pellets….

What kind of government doesn’t even trust its citizens to own an air-rifle safely?  Surely not the one that shouted so loudly about trusting Scots to run their own country…..?

RIP Tigger – but his genes live on.

I’ve been concerned about Tigger, my harlie buck, for a week or so. He started looking a bit unhappy on his feet and “rough” generally – ungroomed, a bit miserable – towards the beginning of last week so I moved him to a smaller cage where he didn’t have to travel so far between food hopper, hayrack and water bottle, just leaving the door open for a couple of hours a day so he could go sunbathe, socialise or whatever. He wasn’t getting any better though and watching him when he reluctantly moved around, he seemed to be trying to keep his weight on his front feet and off his back legs, trying not to move them more than he had to – which is a problem when you’re an animal that hops in long bounds, normally. That made me wonder if he’d damaged his back.

The cage-rest didn’t help and he carried on looking worse, so this morning I put him out of his misery.

I was right about the back injury – there was a patch just behind his last ribs where the tissues around his spine had swollen and discoloured, and the muscles just behind that felt softer and thinner than the rest of his back so I think he must have slipped a disc or the like. I know from my own experience that injured backs take months to stop causing agony, years to heal and they never come back to 100% anyway, so I’m glad I put the old boy down. He had a good life, he fathered some excellent kits for me, and his genes will continue through Jet, Ebony and Ivory, so for a rabbit he’s left a pretty good legacy!

I’ll keep a harlie kit from Ivory’s bunch, I think – a doe, if she’s got one! – and pick out a good harlie buck from a future litter by Ebony to go with it.

I’ll take a screwdriver to Tigger’s old cage and take the upper levels out of it, then any future occupant won’t run the risk of falling off them and doing its back in, too. If they’re determined to fall off something, they’ll have to go a bit further afield!

What Do You Do When The Taps Don’t Work?

This post is inspired by some reports from the States, not anything amiss in the state of our supplies here – yet, anyway!

I came across an article on the current problems in water supply in Baltimore and Detroit that sparked a bit of thinking on my part. Unlike California, the problem isn’t lack of water, per se. Both Baltimore and Detroit have plenty of water available. The problem here is that maintaining the infrastructure to collect, purify and supply water to a city is an expensive job – maintenance costs, wages, etc – that needs to be paid for, and both Detroit and Baltimore choose to pay for this process via billing customers for their water (Don’t get excited about “free” water in the UK – it’s not free, we just pay for our supply via our taxes). If you can’t pay your water bill, the water supply gets shut off.

It’s in the nature of cities in economically depressed areas to have a fair proportion of long-term unemployed, jobless and generally poor people who can’t afford to pay for much. In the case of both Baltimore and Detroit, they’re seriously economically depressed (part of America’s “rustbucket” belt where the death of heavy industry and off-shoring to the Far East has stripped jobs away from the area) and as a result, a certain number of people default on their water bills. There are, by the looks of things, some schemes for assisting those in financial difficulties, but at the end of the day those water pipes still cost money to keep in one piece with clean water flowing through them, so the water companies have to find the money somewhere to keep operating. If people aren’t paying the bills, where does the money come from to pay the workers to fix leaks or operate the treatment plants?

I’m not that interested in the whys and wherefores or the philosophy of paying directly for water or having it tucked into the tax bills. What exercised my mind was scenario planning. Take this a little further (as I suspect will happen to all major cities at some point in the future) and play the mind-games: suppose this happened where I live? Suppose there wasn’t the money to pay for clean water to fall out of taps in endless quantities? As a survivalist, what would I do if the water supply failed, long-term?

Short term, say a few days or weeks, is no challenge at all. We have a big water-butt in the garden and the climate here is soggy enough it stays full, or near-full, all the time, even through we’re using it for gardening and for the bunnies and chooks. We could easily fill up a bucket and pour it into the Berky filter in the kitchen and we’d have pure, clean, safe water for ourselves. If we lived in a city and had some warning (like knowing we’d just had a shut-off notice!) we could fill up containers and store water to tide us over a short break in supply.

But if the supply’s out for months? Or forever? What then?

The usual recommendations are that a human needs 2 litres of water to drink per say, plus washing and cooking water, say about 4 litres a day, per person. 4kg of water. In a week, that’s 28L of water per person. 126L per month. 1,512L per year. Multiply by however many are in your household and then think about the weight-bearing capability of your floors. You really can’t store that much water upstairs!

What if you live in a flat?

And then there’s that perennial problem, the neighbours. If the water’s out for a couple of hours, you can bet someone will pop round to ask if you could let them fill the kettle, because they didn’t have any water stored! All very well when you know they’ll fix the problem in a couple of hours, but what do you do when you’re the only one in the area with a water butt and a filter and the neighbours haven’t had any water for a few days? You can’t go without water for very long – even in a fairly damp, cool climate like the UK, people get thirsty after a few hours and dehydrated after a few more. Bottled water and soft drinks will only last so long and then the local shops will be stripped bare.

After a day or two your neighbours will be losing the plot. Dehydration affects brain function and irrationality will set in. If it’s a choice between drink untreated water or die of thirst, people will drink the dirty water, and since there won’t be water spare for washing, it’ll encourage the outbreak of the diseases of poor hygiene – cholera, typhoid, typhus, E coli and salmonella.

I’ll admit to a big advantage here (and it’s not accidental!); I live in a smallish village in a rural area, not in the middle of a city. We have natural water sources available by way of a small river, various springs and some old wells. I’m not planning on sharing my filter with the village but I can teach people how to build their own, using sand, gravel, charcoal and a bucket, so if (when) our taps run dry in the aftermath of civilisation, hopefully I can reduce the risk of being mobbed by neighbours desperate for a drink.

But what do you do if you live in a flat in a city? How do you supply your water needs without the infrastructure and utilities we all take for granted?

In other news: the bunnies all seem fine and the kits are opening their eyes and beginning to stagger around their cages, beginning the process of driving their mothers slightly demented. I had to pick Jezebel up to get her back in her cage this morning, she wasn’t going back in with those ‘orrible little monsters willingly! In the garden we’re pricking out brassicas and netting them at the moment – both butterflies and birds liking brassica leaves! – and the peas and beans are sprouting nicely. The parsnips haven’t put their shoots up yet but parsnips are often slow so we’re not worrying about it. They’ll turn up in their own good time! We’ve also ordered this year’s tomatoes – last year we were disappointed in our crop from plants bought locally, so we’ve gone back to the mail-order company which supplied our plants the year before, when we had bumper harvests from grafted plants. They should arrive mid-June and we’re looking forward to more big, delicious harvests!

Last August I put some eggs into waterglass as an experiment: my grandmother used to preserve eggs this way during WWII and I’m always interested in food storage methods that don’t rely on a constant supply of electricity so I put 4 dozen away to see how it works. I fished them out a couple of days ago to see the results of the experiment and I’m very pleased: they all looked like eggs, smelled like good eggs, and although when broken the white is very runny and the yolk breaks rather easily (it’d be difficult to get good fried eggs out of them), they taste normal and delicious.

All very good – but then I had 4 dozen eggs to use up! An orgy of cooking and baking ensued and we now have over 9lbs of cakes and another 9lbs of quiche in the freezer.

And the last of the Rabbits!

Not for all time, merely the last due litter at the moment! Ivory has had about half a dozen or so, perfectly competently, in a properly-built nest. Considering she and Ebony are litter-sisters, you’d think they’d be equally good (or bad) mothers, but no….

I shouldn’t do Ebony down, she does seem to have the hang of it now and her remaining kits look healthy and wriggly.

Jezebel managed to lose a couple in the night, allowed them to fall out of the nest and die of exposure, but Trudy’s keeping hers well down in the nest and they’re growing nicely.

Yesterday was the annual vet-trip for Feisty Ferret, she’s come into season and needed her hormone jab to bring her out again. Ferrets are photoperiodic induced ovulators – meaning they come into season due to increasing light levels, and don’t come out again until after they’ve mated. A jill ferret left in season too long can develop leukemia and all sorts of unpleasant infections and I don’t want to breed baby ferrets, so every spring Feisty gets hauled to the vet and stabbed with the appropriate dose of hormones. She’ll start moulting in the next week or so and get into her nice, short summer coat again.

Finally, some rabbits….

After the disappointment of Trudy’s empty nest last month, I finally have baby rabbits! In fact, almost too many….

Trudy and Jezebel produced litters on Thursday, six and (at least) eight respectively. This morning Ebony had randomly scattered offspring all over her floor and was hiding in her litter tray, terminally confused (first-time parents are often clueless). I revived three she’d left to chill on the floor and added them to the one she’s managed to drop in the nest, but one didn’t come back despite being gently warmed in a water bath, toasted lightly under the grill and even offered CPR by whippet (I take it new rabbit kit must smell like new puppy, since they unexpectedly licked the dead one rather than grabbing and swallowing, which was what I’d expected. It went to the ferrets instead – ferrets are very clear on what a rabbit is. It’s food.)

I’m left wondering if Ebony will remember, or realise, that she’s supposed to feed the offspring from time to time. At the moment I’m not pinning much hope on her pulling herself together, but I do have the option of gently dropping a kit or two into the other two nestboxes – they’re only a few days older so there shouldn’t be too much size/age difference and both Trudy and Jezebel are experienced mothers and should be able to feed an extra mouth or two, provided they don’t notice the cuckoos in their nests.

Ivory, my other first-timer, is very close to her due date – at least going by her figure, which could best be described as “stout”. I hope she does better than her sister but, judging by the attempts at nesting she’s made so far, I may be thinking wishfully!

Rabbits usually get the hang of things second time round, if they make a total fluster-cluck of the first experiment. Whatever happens, the ferrets will eat the dead so nothing’s a total waste of time….

In the garden I’m delighted that we have a hedgehog making nightly rounds! Considering how many slugs we’re already noticing around the place (that mild winter!) every set of slug-gnashing teeth are more than welcome to visit.

The tadpoles have hatched in our little pond and we have a small adult frog hanging about, so that’s another set of insect-eating guests we’re happy to have.

No sign of our toad, though. Maybe we did put too much compost on top of the critter….. I hope not. Toads can be remarkably stealthy beasts so I’m not giving up on her yet!

The Empty Nest

Well, Trudy’s let me down. An empty nest, and this morning when I put her on the floor with Silver, her behaviour can only be described as unco-operative! She ran around the floor, she growled at him, she even head-butted him in the ribs. At the point where she started trying to jump up the walls rather than share the floor with him, I retrieved her from a novel position, clinging limpet-like to Delilah’s cage door some 3 feet off the ground and put her back in the cage.

I’ll see how she feels in a day or two. Doe rabbits do have a 14-days-yes-please and 2-days-no-thanks cycle so maybe that’s what the problem is. Either that or suddenly she’s racist about grey rabbits!

Some Rabbit Ruminations.

I killed four of the young NZWs today. They’re just 9 weeks, barely big enough, but all the same, those 4 bunnies put nearly 8kg of meat in the freezer, plus 4 ferret meals and some tasty tidbits to add to the dogs’ dinner.

It takes me, on average, about an hour a day all told to look after the rabbits – now at a population of 20, but earlier today 24. So, working backwards, that would mean it takes about an hour of my time every 24 days per bunny, so at 9 weeks, which is 63 days, each rabbit has cost me less than 3 hours of my time, and about £6 in food.

I don’t actually know what the price of meat is in the shops at the moment, we haven’t bought any for months, but how long do you have to work in a job, allowing for your expenses and a whack heading to the tax man, to take home enough money to buy 2kg of fresh meat?

And it’s superb meat, too – we haven’t found anything we can’t do with it yet, whether roasting, stewing, stir-frying, casseroling, sweet-and-sours, pan-frying, mince, pies, jerky, pemmican….

The slow-cooker is bubbling away nicely with tonight’s dinner. No prizes for guessing what meat is involved.

In other news, we’re down to our last stored onion and we’ve just finished the garlic, so we need to grow twice as much to last the full year! It’s always worth knowing. This year’s garlic (about twice as much as last year….heheh) is looking good in the garden and we’ll be putting in the onions and shallots soon.

How Not to Build a Compost Heap

When I pulled all my stuff off the allotment, I brought home a big compost bin that I’d bought and put there. Today we finally got round to assembling it in the garden, alongside our existing heaps, and I have to say, we definitely hadn’t thought it out properly.

First off, there’s a distinct lack of space in that corner. We had 5 compost heaps in situ, at various stages of composting, and the only available space was between two lilac bushes. All very well, but we’d already tossed a fair old heap of rubbish in that spot already!

So, the first job was to assemble the rear half of the bin – it’s one of these sectional plastic affairs – and then put it behind the rubbish heap, then move the rest of the heap into position within the bin before we could assemble the front half. Ducking and weaving around the lilics, we got the three lower and three upper rear panels of the bin in place and started forking the muck into position.

I nearly stabbed a hibernating toad in the course of this, which was a very lucky escape for Toady! I’m pretty sure it’s the same toad we’d seen around that corner of the garden last summer – quite a large, brown toad. Anyway, she just missed being impaled and I picked her up and popped her (probably her, she’s a big toad and females are bigger) into the area of the new compost bin, then reburied her carefully to continue her winter snooze. Hopefully she’ll settle back down and when spring comes, she’ll be ready to come out and scoff insect pests in the garden again.

Having succesfully avoided amphibian assassination and moved the heap into position, we then built the front half of the bin and filled in around the edges (inside) with the cleanings of the hen run from yesterday. I’ll continue filling up with rabbit cleanings.

It would have been much simpler and quicker if we’d had clear ground to build on, though!

It’s been a quiet time otherwise – too much ice and frost to do much work on the land. The bunnies continue ticking along, although Silver has (again) managed to pull a muscle in his right hind leg, the prat, and has been moved to a different cage and confined to it until he’s healed up. The two young female rexes who were in that cage are now in his old cage and their brothers, in one of my huge cages, are just beginning to moult, so should be in the freezer in a couple of weeks, as soon as they’ve finished moulting. The ten NZW youngsters will be ready about then, too.

My FAC application is now submitted and today I drilled four big holes in the wall, to bolt the cabinet securely in place. I don’t know what the walls of this house are made of but it seemed inordinately hard! I had to stop several times for the drill and drill bit to cool down. I have a socket that fits the bolts, but not the connecting doofer to attach it to the drill, so on Monday I’ll be in our local DIY place finding something to do the job and then the cabinet will be ready for inspection by the police in due course.