Monday, 27 September 2021

My Year in the Veg Garden

It's Autumn, the nights are drawing in, the leaves are falling and Strictly is back...

Time flies, it will soon be a year since moving to my new house in the leafy suburbs with a garden. So I thought it would be a good opportunity to give an account of my efforts towards self sufficiency in the garden.

The first job was to install a water butt to collect rainwater for the Summer months. My house is on a water meter and I don't like the idea of paying for watering the garden when I can collect gallons of rain water for free. Luckily, the local water company United Utilities had an offer for a half-price 100L container and also a garden compost bin both made from recycled plastic. It was a simple job to connect to the downpipe of the garage and the container was full within the first week.

The next project was to construct a raised bed to grow some of the root veg that needs plenty of deep soil for best results. I bought a few lengths of pressure treated timber from a local supplier in their sale. This was cut into lengths approx. 2m x 1m...roughly coffin shaped! I then chose a sunny aspect in the corner of the garden and removed the turf from the the lawn and was pleased to see lots of earthworms which is a good sign of soil fertility. My family made good use of the turf to repair patches of their lawn dug up by their dog.

The raised bed was constructed and put in place in early Spring. I then filled the bed with a mix of well-rotted manure, soil and peat-free compost and allowed it to settle for a month or so to remove any air pockets.

I ordered my veg seeds from an old friend Cathy from my days in Devon who runs Tamar Organics. Beetroot, Leeks, Runner Beans, Various Salads, Parsnips, Cougette and Chilli Peppers would be a good start.


I have a conservatory to the back of the house and this was an ideal place to sow the leeks, courgette seeds and beans. This started in March and April and I used some old cardboard egg boxes and the middle of toilet rolls (thanks weenie) filled with a mix of soil and peat-free compost. It was really good to see the new shoots poking through after a couple of weeks.

The parsnips and beetroot are best planted out in the garden as they don't like being disturbed. The Spring had a few unseasonal cold snaps in April, also very dry but after a slow start they seemed to get going with some heavy rain and then warm sun in late May. I also put up a wigwam of canes in the border for the beans and transplanted them as well as sowing some spares directly at the base of the canes. The salad was sown throughout May and June in the flower borders.

July turned out to be hot, sunny and dry with temperatures reaching 29C so I was out most evenings watering from the rain harvested earlier in the year. When the water butt was full I siphoned some off into a spare empty wheelie bin which holds a further 200L...unfortunately, with no tap, it was a bit of a problem transferring it to my watering can when half empty!

I think climate change will put a lot of pressure on our precious water supply in the coming years so it seems like a good idea to try to conserve the plentiful amount of rain water and conserve mains water for drinking.


For the past few months I have enjoyed lots of organic, fresh times far too much coming at once so family and neighbours have enjoyed the surplus. The runner beans have been prolific throughout August and September, the beetroot is delicious...simply boiled whole and then eaten still warm with a slice of thick wholemeal bread and hummus. The leeks and parsnips are to be enjoyed later in the year.

Runner Beans, Courgette, Beetroots & Jalapenos

The chilli peppers were grown indoors on a sunny window sill but needed to be put out each day so the flowers would pollinate. In the end, just one plant produced around 30 peppers...not quite as hot as I like for jalapenos but still very acceptable. Some of the surplus was made into jars of chutney by my daughter and was very tasty!

I also have a mature apple tree in the garden which has provided fruit over the past month or so (windfall) with more to come in the Autumn. I had a go at apple pie and also apple and blackberry crumble...certainly room for improvement but passable with lots of custard.


Of course, there are lots of environmental benefits to growing veg apart from the cost savings. It cuts down on food miles, much of the green beans sold in the supermarket is flown in from the likes of Kenya. Likewise with salads which are transported many road miles for cleaning and packaging in plastic before distribution to the stores. How much simpler to walk to the end of the garden!

The flowering plants such as runner beans are great for bees and pollinating insects

Jalapeno chutney...delicious!

Also there's the sense of achievement in the whole journey of nurturing the lifecycle of the various vegetables from seed to plate over the season and then composting the plant. Finally, there is the benefits to mental health from just getting your hands dirty and working with the soil and its amazing just how much produce can come from a single small seed. This is not just any old courgette, nor is it a M&S courgette but its MY courgette!

Next Year

So, a good start and already thinking about what to try next year. I like radish so they are on the list, maybe also some celery, peas and different types of beans and maybe some spinach which I hear is fairly easy and also outdoor tomatoes. I will also have a go at preserving some of the produce and also making some chutneys.

If there are any veg gardeners reading, let me know what has worked for you...leave a comment below.

And to finish...from John Keats "To Autumn" seems appropriate:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
 To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
 For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

The Case for Gold

In recent months I have become increasingly bearish on global equities. The main concerns are the increased debt arising from Covid over the past 18 months and secondly our lack of progress on the existential threats posed by climate change. I think these two elements could seriously impact the markets over the coming months and years so I have decided to de-risk my portfolio and move into government bonds and gold.

Why Gold?

In the past, I have never been a big fan of holding gold. Obviously it cannot provide an income so that was one reason back when I needed dividend income to bridge the gap after taking early retirement in 2008. But that doesn't mean there is no fact I was surprised to learn that over the past 15 years or so, gold bullion has generated a capital appreciation of 11% p.a. on average.

At the time of moving to retirement we had the financial crisis and the slump in interest rates on cash deposits. In 2007, it was common to get 5% or 6% annual interest on cash deposits but over the past 12 years, returns have been dire and provided an average return of just 6% over the whole period. Over the same time frame inflation as measure by RPI has risen by 39%...therefore a real negative return of -24% for savers. Cash deposits are likely to remain at low levels for the foreseeable future.

The Gold Standard

Back in the day we had a thing called the gold standard which provided stability for the major currencies such as the US $ and the British pound. The Bretton Woods agreement of 1944 established a system through which a fixed currency exchange rate could be guaranteed using gold as a universal standard.

Of course, under this system it was not possible to create more money during a crisis and after the Vietnam War and the oil crisis of the early 1970s, President Nixon 'suspended' the conversion of the dollar into gold - effectively creating fiat currency and the ability for governments to print money to protect the financial other words, a magic money tree!

Currencies are therefore becoming lass stable and only continue so long as there continues a collective belief in the monetary system. Gold can therefore be regarded as insurance against a fall in the purchasing power of modern currencies. Maybe crypto currencies such as Bitcoin can be regarded in a similar vein as we transform towards a digital world.

The Vehicle

It's always possible to buy gold coins and store them at home but for most this is not very practical. The easiest method is to hold physical gold via an exchange traded fund in your pension or ISA.

SGLN price past 3 years

I decided to go with the largest fund which is iShares Physical Gold (SGLN) which has been around since April 2011 and with low annual charges of 0.15%. The fund has assets of $12.8 trillion.

Other options could be a fund such as Blackrock Gold & General or LF Ruffer Gold for example but as my platform charges are capped for shares and ETFs with AJ Bell, the iShares option is the better one for me.


Apart from the Covid dip last year, the bull run in equities has continued for quite some time. The US markets are close to their all time high point...maybe there's more to come - who knows? But for me, it seems prudent to bank some of the gains made over this period and squirrel them away into the 'safe' for the time being.

S&P 500 Index past 5 years

We have the COP 26 conference coming to Glasgow in November and an opportunity for world 'leaders' to actually do what they all know needs to be done. However, given their collective track record so far, I am not overly confident in the ability of governments to get to grips with the climate crisis. I think the worsening climate situation could well become the biggest threat to the stability of global markets. We have the 'Code Red' warning last month from the IPCC and now the latest report from the UN says that emissions will be 16% higher by 2030 whereas they need to have fallen by at least 45% by this date to be on track for net zero by 2050. Actions or lack thereof over the coming year or two should give us a better indication on whether our politicians and world leaders are up to the job.

Sept 2021 (click to enlarge)

For now I will continue to hedge my bets with gold, precious metals and government bonds. The shares were purchased at an average price of £24.50 and held in both SIPP and ISA and with my precious metals ETF now make up 8% of my portfolio.

As ever, this article is merely a record of my personal investment decisions and take on the risk/rewards associated with the current markets. It should not be regarded as an endorsement or recommendation - always DYOR!

Monday, 13 September 2021

ITM Power - Full Year Results

Hydrogen is the most commonly occurring element in nature and is set to play a defining role in the 'green' industrial revolution as the world moves to replace fossil fuels. It can be stored and used to power long-distant transport such as cars, lorries, trains and ships. It can be used to generate electricity. It can be stored and transported for use at a later date. Green hydrogen made from renewable energy such as wind and solar is a clean source of energy and when used the only emissions are water and heat.

ITM Power (ITM.L) designs and manufactures products which generate clean hydrogen based on Proton Exchange Membrane technology. Earlier this year it opened its new Gigafactory in Sheffield with the prospect of producing 1GW of clean hydrogen each year. It is estimated that the new factory will cut the costs of electrolysers by 40% due to increased automation and economies of scale.

ITM was one of the first additions to my green portfolio back in August 2019.


It has recently announced results for the year to end April 2021 (link via Investegate). Obviously, there has been the impact of Covid over the trading year.

Total revenues including grant income fell by 6% to £5.1m (2020 £5.4m), with grant income reduced to just £0.8m (2020 £2.1m).

The company has seen an increase in qualified tender opportunities to £378m (£195m) and a corresponding contracts backlog of £171m (£119m) including contracts in the final stages of negotiation.

The company made a loss of £26.7m which was broadly in line with management expectations. The joint ventures with Linde and Snam are likely to reduce exposure to future development risks.

Graham Cooley, CEO, commented , "2021 has been another transformational year for ITM Power.  We attracted a strategic investor in Snam S.p.A., and through our fund raise in October 2020 developed a platform to deliver to market our next generation product, the 5MW Gigastack, two years earlier than previously planned.  We also moved into Bessemer Park, the world's largest PEM electrolyser factory and commenced manufacturing there in January 2021.  We have seen national commitments to net zero accelerate, and I believe we are very well placed, with our partner Linde, to address the rapidly growing demand in the market."

New gigafactory, Sheffield

The company maintains a positive outlook. Installation of the 10MW REFHYN project in Germany is now complete with a further 10MW planned. Work in progress has more than doubled to £36m representing 43MW of electrolysers. Global energy markets are increasingly recognising the need for the use of green hydrogen for energy storage, transport and heating. The UK Committee on Climate Change suggest we will need between 6 and 17GW of electrolysis to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Earlier this year, the European Commission announced its EU Hydrogen Strategy and its Energy Systems Integration Strategy. The announcement prioritised the development of renewable hydrogen, produced using mainly wind and solar energy. From 2020 to 2024, they will support the installation of at least 6GW of renewable hydrogen electrolysers in the EU, and the production of up to one million tonnes of renewable hydrogen. ITM with its partners Linde and Snam are well positioned to benefit from these opportunities.

3 Yr Share Price

The results demonstrate a lot of potential from many different areas but progress towards profitability remains slow. The market does not seem impressed with the results and the share price has taken a hit...down 54p (11%) to 415p at the close today.

The potential for green hydrogen worldwide is huge but for investors in the individual companies, it remains risky as nobody really knows who will come out on top... still 'jam tomorrow'. Revenues of £5m are small compared to a market cap. of over £2bn so I am hoping to see more progress on a scaling up of operations over the coming year. The share price has made progress with a rise from 250p last year, reaching a high point of over £7 in January before sliding back - but still quite a jump from my purchase price of 37p just over two years back.

In the past few months I have started to take some of the profits from my green equity investments as I move to a more defensive position. This includes a reduction in my ITM holding - down from 9% at the start of this year to currently 3% of my green portfolio.

As ever, this article is merely a record of my personal investment decisions and should not be regarded as an endorsement or recommendation... investing in individual companies listed on AIM can be rewarding but is higher risk compared to collective investments - always DYOR!

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Tax Increases for NHS Backlog and Social Care

Yesterday, the PM announced plans to increase taxes to pay for the NHS backlog resulting from Covid and to increase funding for the costs of long term care.

So, from next April this will include an extra 1.25% on NICs for employees who's earnings are above the lower limit of £120 p.w. and will also include those who are still working beyond state pension age. In addition there will be an extra 1.25% for employers.

This will mean an extra £255 for those on an average wage of £30,000 p.a.


In addition, there will be a 1.25% increase to the tax on dividend income. This will include the self employed and company directors who choose to pay themselves with dividends in addition to a salary. From next April the tax for basic rate will increase from 7.5% to 8.75% and the higher rate will go up to 33.75%.

The first £2,000 of dividend income is tax-free so this tax increase will affect those who receive dividends above this figure. For example, investors who pays basic rate tax and have an income portfolio of £80,000 which pays an average of 4% in dividends i.e. £3,200, will pay an additional 1.25% on £1,200 or £15 per year. Of course dividends held in a tax-free ISA or pension will not be affected.

Social Care Cap

From October 2023, the total anyone will have to pay towards care costs will be capped at £86,000. However the cap only applies to care costs such as assistance with dressing, washing and eating, it does not apply to accommodation costs such as the cost of food, heating and rent which could amount to one third of residential care bills.

Those with assets of under £20,000 will have these costs fully paid by the state whilst those with assets between £20,000 and £100,000 will get some help.

The above tax hikes are estimated to bring in an additional £36bn in the first three years but most of this - around 85% - will go to the NHS and only around £5bn for social care.

I doubt there will be much improvement in social care provision any time soon.

State Pension Triple Lock

I was on track for an 8% rise in my state pension next year due to the link to the increase in wages but 'for one year only' in 2022, the triple lock will be replaced by a double lock and the increase will be linked to the higher of inflation or 2.5%.

I suspect most pensioners will understand this move and that to have kept the link to artificially high earnings growth due to the pandemic and furlough scheme would have been unfair.

The current (new) state pension is £179.60 per week so an expected 3% inflation increase will take the figure to £185...£9,600 p.a. An 8% uplift would have resulted in a payment of £194 - £10,090 p.a. so my contribution to pay for the NHS and social care is £490 per annum!