Monday 24th February – A ride on a tractor and helping out the neighbours

March 9, 2014

Dawn breaking over the flare and digester 1 as we do the composition testing on the gas intake to the engines

Dawn breaking over the flare and digester 1 as we do the composition testing on the gas intake to the engines

A nice early night last night meant a full eight hours before the alarm this morning which was bliss. Today was a fairly varied day all in all. There was a ground frost this morning which meant that Thorsten and Georg were devoted to trying to muck-spread while the ground was hard enough to hold the tractor and 19 tonne trailer. There hasn’t been a single snowfall this year and few frosts so there have been few opportunities to get the gulle (nutrient-rich digestate end product, effectively liquid manure) out on the fields over the winter which is important for a few reasons. First, spreading the digestate end product provides nitrogen, phosphorus and calcium reducing the need for (and cost of) conventional fertiliser. Second, this process closes the nutrient cycle (which is important for the sustainability of biogas). And finally, the enormous tank where the end product is stored was at least 80% full and once it’s full there’s no way of storing the digestate, and no where to put it!

Inside the digester during agitation. Looks like a Martian (or otherworldly) landscape apparently...?

Inside the digester during agitation. Looks like a Martian (or otherworldly) landscape apparently…?

Up to mid-morning we steadily got on with our testing and routine tasks while service engineers maintained one of the gas engines to ensure optimal efficiency and in preparation for upcoming emissions testing. Following the frosty early start, the day turned into beautiful sunshine in a cloudless sky and the PV installations in this part of the world started gearing up to donate to the grid. Thorsten dropped by around mid-morning to see whether Tim and I wanted to join him for some muck spreading as there’s a spare seat in the big tractor so we split the time and while I finished off that series of tests Tim helped fill the spreader and went about videoing the spreading in action. I got a similar slice of action later on and can understand why Christian enjoys muck-spreading so much. It’s thoroughly relaxing to switch on the radio, key in the range to which extend the spreader arms, set the cruise control on the tractor and give a decent amount of field (about 0.7 Ha) a nice wet brown covering before using the ipad/ ipod linked to the GPS tracker to check the field off of the schedule for the day. Yes, there really is that much technology in these tractors!

During a couple of spreading visits Thorsten told me of the importance of diversifying what is grown to spread the risk for crops (last year was terrible for corn but nearly a record for wheat – I think I’ve got that the right way round – on account of the amount of rain and when it fell). It also turns out that the farm is entirely plough-less which surprised me. Not that it was something I’d ever thought about in depth, I admit. It turns out that ploughing is highly energy intensive, kills large numbers of soil fauna and also oxidises the soil requiring a deeper humus layer. On the farm they tend to grow mustard instead during the off-season to control weeds and then when the frost comes it splits the bulbs and the plants die back returning all of the nutrients to the soil which is then rotavated instead before planting. See, not just biogas that’s being taught out here – to be honest I could write a tome on all of the odds and ends I’ve learned in a week out here (and several more on the now known-unknowns that have come to my attention – like why when you dilute digestate of pH 7-8 with distilled water of pH about 7 does the pH of the solution increase to about 8.2 when the digestate is already about 92% water?).

Back for lunch of baked rice with courgette and fennel and green salad which was delicious and topped off by a nut cake of which I had two pieces. I’ve been starving all day and am now going to blame it on the doughnut I had with breakfast (yes, that’s three pieces of cake by lunch time) that was made with a little bit of milk that didn’t really agree with me. (Nothing wrong with the doughnut, which was very tasty, just a bit wrong with me).

As another week’s worth of silage has now been fed to the fermenter there was some shovelling to do to get the remainder off of the ‘sausage’ of corn in the side of the silo. So, we set to that to work off some of the lunchtime calories before getting stuck into the afternoon’s routine.

Tim is king of the maize pile. Oh, and the white thing next to him is the 'sausage' of corn

Tim is king of the maize pile. Oh, and the white thing next to him is the ‘sausage’ of corn

Around 4pm Thorsten asked whether one of us was free to help him lift some boards for one of his friends. I jumped in the car with the friend and spent the next few hours unloading plasterboard from a forklift truck through an upstairs window into the newly built flat his friend has built on top of his girlfriend’s house. Now, when I say on top, I really mean it – they took the roof off, added a spiral staircase next to the front door and installed an entire other floor on the top of the house with the structural work taking about two weeks. Yes, two weeks! The additional storey is constructed entirely from wood and was largely made offsite and then clicked together in place and, although still work in progress, it looked great with high, vaunted ceilings in the eaves of the roof and loads of light flooding in through windows galore. Even though my fingers were now tingling from hefting pallet full of plaster boards – having not entirely recovered from climbing at the weekend – it was nice to have been able to help out a little bit and also great to see how the community here is close enough to help each other out (Thorsten picked up the pallet of boards from a storage yard with the forklift and drove it through the town to the house because he was asked if he could help while at dinner last night). I asked him about this and he said that the guy we helped was really good at exterior painting and woodwork so he’d just call in the favour if he needed some help in the future; isn’t that the way communities should be?

Back for dinner where I’ve got humous and tofutier (fake meat and vegetable) spread to cover the rye bread with before retiring early for a bit of diary writing and perhaps a little work too. Or maybe just preparation for work; we’ll see how tired I feel after this…

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