Friday, 22 June 2012

Getting bikes on trains

I'm a non-driver, so I'm often found taking trains around the country.  I'm also not a cyclist, but that's mostly because my girlfriend has banned me from "pedalling the pedals" for the safety of both myself and those around me (I admit I can get rather easily distracted or absorbed in thought - more than once I've done the hour long walk to work and suddenly realised as I opened the building door that I couldn't  remember actually crossing any of the roads to get there!).  However I think cycling is a great way of commuting for folk how are a bit more mentally with it.  If you live within 5 miles of work, cycling directly there should be something you should consider for your own health, to help reduce road congestion and help cut down on pollution.

Couple a bike with a commuter train and you've potentially got a great commuter transport option: cycle to the station, catch the train with your bike and then hop back on the bicycle for a quick cycle to your place of work/education.  I know several people who do just that, coming to Loughborough from Nottingham, Derby or Leicester, and I've seen people at Loughborough station who are obviously doing the opposite run.

Whilst I'm a non-cyclist my train usage means I've seen plenty of bikes, both "folders" and normal non-folding examples, popped into carriage vestibules or wedged into one of the little cycle spaces that are provided on some services.  I'm also old enough that I can remember "proper trains" with large guards vans that could take large numbers of bikes (and push chairs and folks in wheelchairs and large luggage) that unfortunately modern train designs have swept away.  Thus I'm very aware that there's not actually that much space available for bikes, although what space is available seems to be offered for free to riders by most train companies.

Today there's a bus drivers strike going on in London, and I noticed that Chiltern Railways (one of the best UK train operating companies in my experience) where encouraging folk to walk or cycle where possible when they got to the capital.  My first thought was "good on yer Chiltern Railways for promoting walking and cycling".  Then I thought, "hmm, I wonder how many bikes they can get on each train to allow this?"  A bit of Googling threw up the AtoB website's cycles and trains page, which seemed to unfortunately indicate that cycles aren't allowed on some of their peak period trains!  You'd think they'd at least allow

However the thing that really struck me was the wide range of rules and regulations on cycle carriage from all the train operating companies.  Even companies that are using more or less the same rolling stock have completely different rules and attitudes to cycle carriage on their trains.  The fact that lots of them seem to restrict (at least on paper) the carriage of cycles, even folding cycles in some cases, on peak hour trains rather stuffs up the cycle-train-cycle commuting option for many people.  I guess at least if you are a regular commuter you can get used to rules implemented by the particular train operating company(s) that you regularly use.  However this mish-mash of contradictory regulations doesn't encourage the occasional use of cycles for the first/last mile of other, less regular train journeys such as people going to meetings, visiting granny, nipping to a city for shopping, etc, especially as those sorts of journeys are more likely to require changes between different train operating companies.

In the past the Government via the Office of the Rail Regulator has got the train operating companies together via their ATOC association to force them to review and try to simplify ticketing rules (with admittedly limited success).  I wonder if they, or anyone else with some clout, are capable of getting the cycle carriage rules standardised across the network (or at least across identical rolling stock)?  I guess another solution would be a national "Boris Bike" scheme were you could pick up a loaner bike for a few hours at every railway station but that's another post for another day!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Garden Organic Members' Experiments Progress

A while back m'lady and I decided to take part in a couple of the Garden Organic members' experiments. We opted for the garden scale wheat trial and the blight resistant tomato tests.  After a tense couple of weeks of waiting to see if we were accepted (being new boy late comers to this game) we received a pleasingly chunky envelope containing the required seeds, some background information and the data sheets we needed to complete for each trial.

We quickly got a bed at the allotment prepared for the wheat - cleared of weeds, levelled and then had the wheat seed broadcast across it.  A quick raking over and that was the wheat trial under way for us - all done by the middle of April.  Within a couple of weeks the first little green leaves were already showing, although the progress was a bit slow after that thanks to the rather odd Spring weather this year.  Still, nothing much to be done with the wheat now until late July when, hopefully, we'll be harvesting golden ears and working out how to thresh, mill and bake with them (which is really the main reason behind the experiment - can a small patch of wheat be grown by gardeners and then turned into something useful).

Meanwhile the tomato experiment could get underway indoors, despite the toms actually being outdoor varieties.  The point of this experiment is to trial four different tomato varieties and see what their resistance is to the evil blight (Phytophthora infestans for those playing along at home).  Blight is something we've been cursed with before - we lost an entire main crop potato harvest three or four years ago, and then some almost ripe tomatoes the following year - so this an experiment we're obviously rather interested in.  I can't tell you much about the varieties we're growing as they are only known to us as the mysterious labels A, B, C and D.

Once 10 seeds each of A, B, C and D were sown, they rested in the propagator in m'lady's lounge window sill, alongside our normal indoor toms.  The weather decided to be grey, manky and cold for weeks on end, so germination was a bit slow at first.  Eventually A, C and D got going (along with our normal, non-experimental toms) and between 5 and 9 little seedlings appeared in the pots.  Tomato B steadfastly refused to germinate though - we thought at one point it was going to be a complete no-show.  Eventually one little 'B' appeared and after waiting for some weeks (during which A, C, D were growing madly) we resigned ourselves to only having one Tom B for the trial
The tomato experimental subjects
Today was "potting on and putting out" day.  One each of A, B, C and D got put into 8 litre pots containing a mixture of home made compost topped off with some Vital Earth vegetable compost and a handful of slow release organic fertilizer.  Due to my poor planning and thus a slight lack of veg compost we then potted up two more each of A, C and D, and all of these got popped outside on m'lady's patio to soak up the gentle Summer sun.  Or as it turns out on this royal Bank Holiday weekend, soak up the gentle English rain.

We've sourced some more compost (last bag of Vital Earth veg compost at Charlecote Garden Centre, which I think demonstrates how good it is compared to the masses of some other brands still stacked on pallets there) and we'll pot up some more of A, C and D later today.  These will also get squeezed in somewhere in m'lady's increasingly well filled back garden.  Who wants scented roses when there's some serious garden science to be done, eh?

Then bizarrely we actually need some more of the warm English rain, as that's what spreads the blight spores.  Apparently this experiment is a rerun of a similar trial made last year, when it wasn't wet enough during the tomato growing season and thus few people had blight hit their trial toms.  I'm in two minds really.  I'd like to get some useful results for the Garden Organic folk from this experiment which may help long term in providing blight resistant tomato strains.  On the other hand I'd really like to see what toms A, B, C and D actually taste like.  After all there'd be little point in growing blight-proof toms that taste like supermarket commercial varieties!