Gavin Shoebridge – an electric vehicle nut, a keen environmentalist

                Electric Car Conversion Blog By Gavin Shoebridge

January 17th, 2016 at 11:38 am

Which is the better growing lamp: LED or CFL or sunlight?

LED growing lamp comparison with CFL growing lamp

LED (left) versus CFL (right) – click on this photo to see it full size.

In 2015 I bought a fancy 50 watt LED growing lamp (above left) from eBay which promised the earth in terms of spectrum awesomeness. I also went to the hardware store and bought a regular “warm white” 32 watt Compact Florescent Lamp (CFL) shown on the right. I wanted to know what was the best in terms of growing leafy vegetables but I didn’t know what was better.

Some websites said that the new LEDs are the way to go because they use them on the space station, others said that CFLs are better, but you need special “full spectrum” models which cost more. I was confused. The information on the internet is inconsistent. So, I did a little experiment…

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

Chinese cabbages are fairly bulletproof so they’ll make good specimens. 

As you might remember from this blog post, I made a special growing box to carry out this experiment. I wanted to see if my fancy LED growing lamp was more effective than a standard CFL lamp from the hardware store, albeit brighter and more powerful than what most people would use to illuminate a room. Other than being 32 watts (a regular CFL is about 20 watts) it’s not special in any way.

Once I had the seeds germinating and sprouting (which took about 10 days before I started the experiment), I moved them into pots to begin the experiment. Don’t forget, you can click on any photo on this page to see it in full size.

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

Day 1: LED on the left and CFL on the right.

I carried out this experiment because I wanted to see if I could grow vegetables during autumn and winter, which lamp was the most effective, and how both forms of light competed against the same vegetables using natural light in the glasshouse.

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

I put two test cabbages in the glasshouse to compare growing with sunlight.

Because the growing season outside was effectively over, I put my two “sunlight cabbages” in the glasshouse to assist in their growth during these colder, shorter days.

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

Day 7

Fast forward to day number seven. There’s very little difference between all three lots of cabbages growing inside and outside. It looks like the CFL might have an early advantage, but it’s only a guess. Let’s have a look how the outdoor cabbages compare on the seventh day:

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

Day 7 outside: one cabbage died, the survivor fights on.

Oh dear. While the difference in size between indoor and outdoor cabbages might be negligible, the loss of the cabbage on the right is of concern. Were the cold temperatures just too much for it? Perhaps the roots were damaged during transplantation?

I didn’t know, but it was a bad start after just seven days. I watered and cared for them all as best as possible, and the next results were starting to show differences in progress.

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

Day 14 in the growing box.

Day fourteen is starting to really show a difference in growth between the LED (left) and the CFL (right). This surprised me because the LED cost around $35 USD and had a glowing (pun intended) description of its growing abilities. The CFL on the other hand was just a regular lamp designed to illuminate your garage.

So how does my surviving outdoor cabbage compare after fourteen days?

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

Day 14 outside.

The results are, perhaps predictably, rather gloomy in the glasshouse. While warmer during the day, at night the glasshouse temperature can fall to around freezing (0°C or 32°F) during late autumn / early winter. Still, at least that cabbage is surviving… just.

Let’s fast forward:

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

Day 25 in the growing box.

Now things are starting to get interesting. The regular CFL lamp (right) is giving the cabbages all the right light to grow quickly and healthily, while the fancy LED (left) is making the cabbages grow in a rather scrawny way. Notice the colour difference, too?

These are impressive and surprising results. So how’s our little trooper going in the glasshouse?

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

Day 25 with my hand for a size comparison.

Not only is the glasshouse cabbage surviving the now-winter conditions, it’s actually growing too, albeit very slowly. At this rate it’s obvious the glasshouse cabbage won’t win the race and it proves that even in a glasshouse, it’s not worth growing anything when the season’s over.

So let’s fast-forward to the final day in the experiment: day 36.

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

Day 36.

The experiment has ended on day thirty six, which was the 6th of December. I took the indoor cabbages out of their respective sides in the growing box and had a good look at them. The LED cabbages did grow, and they grew well compared to the surviving glasshouse cabbage, but the final result was not how Chinese cabbages should look. Their leaves should be thick and dark, not pale and spindly.

The CFL cabbages on the other hand did remarkably well. I decided to brave the cold and put all the cabbages side by side outside so you can see the final result in one photo.

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

We have a winner: CFL!

The results speak for themselves. In first place (left) are the two CFL cabbages, in second place are two rather sad looking LED cabbages, and in third place is one surviving glasshouse cabbage.

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

The CFL cabbage grew so well that the pot was restricting its roots.

When I removed the cabbages from their pots I discovered something interesting. The cabbages which grew under the CFL light were fighting for space. At you can see above, the poor things had no space for their roots. I wonder what would have happened if I’d given them a bigger pot and given them more time?

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

Getting to the root of the issue.

I rinsed the cabbages and their roots in water to remove the soil so I could see the progress of their root growth. Even though these cabbages were not yet fully mature, the winning CFL cabbages had strong root growth. Unfortunately the fine roots were weak and many broke upon removal.

The LED cabbages had other problems besides poor root growth. It was near impossible to move the LED cabbages because they were so weak. Any pressure at all resulted in broken stems and torn leaves. As for the glasshouse cabbage… well, that was too small to do anything with.

So how did they taste?

Well, very similarly. When eaten raw, the best tasting was the sunlight cabbage because it was lacking the usual “peppery” bitter cabbage taste. The LED cabbages were a little more bitter and cabbage-like, while the CFL cabbages were full-bodied with that tangy cabbage flavour.

I boiled what was not eaten and offered them around the house with a little soy sauce. Once boiled for 15 minutes they all tasted identical and all who tried them enjoyed them.

CFL growing light comparison with LED grow lamp compared to sunlight

If growing indoors during winter, forget LED and get a regular CFL instead!

And there you have it! No matter how good the advertisement may be for LED lighting, for leafy vegetables your best bet is a bright CFL from the hardware store.

Now I’m on to my next growing experiment: feijoas!

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November 1st, 2015 at 9:27 am

Growing vegetables inside during autumn & winter

I decided to carry out an experiment. I really want to grow feijoas in Slovakia, but I fear the winters will be too harsh for the plant to endure, so I decided to make a “growing box”.

This experiment will see which is better for growing leafy vegetables in fall/winter: a greenhouse, a bright CFL lamp, or a specialised LED growing lamp.

1: Cut pieces of board to make a box.

No one I spoke to in Slovakia had ever heard of feijoas, so it’s a complete mystery whether or not this popular-in-New Zealand fruit will survive in Slovakia. But last week I tracked down a company in the Czech Republic that stocks feijoa seeds, so I bought a few packets.

growing box lamp

2: Make a box.

I bought a special LED growing lamp from eBay for $22 USD. But this had me scratching my head… Professional growing lamps are hundreds of dollars, so is a $22 growing lamp any good? What about a regular “warm white” compact florescent lamp (CFL) instead?

Making this box is One way to find out.

growing box lamp

I recommend adding handles for easy manoeuvrability.

Before I germinate (and possibly kill) my delicate feijoas, I need to find out if an LED or regular household CFL will grow plants. To do this, I’m going to use some cheap and rather bulletproof Chinese Cabbages.

In this experiment I’m going to compare three sources of light during autumn / winter period:

1: my new LED growing lamp
2: a standard ‘warm white’ CFL
3: the greenhouse in the back yard

I added a reflective interior and installed the two growing lamps

I added a reflective interior and installed the two lamps

The lamps in the picture above are (left) a 50 watt LED grow lamp  and (right) a 32 watt CFL lamp rated at 2200 lumens and a ‘soft white’ or ‘warm white’ colour (2700K).

According to the advert on ebay for the LED lamp, it produces light on the following wavelengths: blue (430~440nm, 450~460nm), red (610~615nm, 620~630nm, 650~660nm), white light / UV (380~400nm), infra red (730nm). 

LED growing lamp experiment

These innocent Chinese cabbages are my lab rats…

So, which is better in autumn or winter? LED, CFL, or a greenhouse? To find out I’m placing two cabbages in each environment over the next 10 weeks to see which has the best results.

These ones are using sunlight in the glasshouse.

These ones are using sunlight in the glasshouse.

The big benefit of the greenhouse is the natural light and the warmth during the daytime. However, the biggest problem with this time of year is the cold nights. I know I prefer being inside, so I wonder if my other seedlings will too…

CFL grow lamp versus LED grow lamp versus sunlight

What a difference in colour. The LED is hard to look at, while the CFL looks bright and inviting. What will the cabbages prefer?

With the box complete and my seedlings doing their thing, we just have to leave nature to do its work.

The box actually looks pretty good too after adding a vinyl wood veneer wrap.

These cabbages grow fast and reach maturity in around 10 weeks (the middle of winter). I wonder if it will work. Will the greenhouse offer enough light/warmth? Do you really need a special LED lamp? Will a bright CFL do the trick? Watch this space to find out.

Now we play the waiting game… Or the guitar.

These cabbages grow fast and reach maturity in around 10 weeks (the middle of winter). I wonder if it will work. Will the greenhouse offer enough light/warmth? Do you really need a special LED lamp? Will a bright CFL do the trick?

And then, will my feijoa seeds survive?

Watch this space to find out!

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October 14th, 2015 at 12:01 am

My Slovak Life

Some random videos of my life in Slovakia:

In this video above, I attempt to play the Slovak musical instrument called the Fujara. It’s an impressive woodwind instrument with a distinctive sound.

Did someone mention wine?

This this video, my wife’s family show us how to make wine the old fashioned way – despite being in the middle of suburbia!

I love the snowy winters of Slovakia, even in traffic:

In most New Zealand cities snow is a very rare event. To have it fall this heavily is unheard of. Here in Central Europe however, it’s a different story. It’s so cool! This was recorded in Bratislava morning traffic after a decent snowfall.


One thing I love about Slovakia is the festivals. This above video is of a goulash party in the suburbs of Bratislava. As you can see I got decidedly drunk further into the video…


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October 6th, 2015 at 9:35 am

100% electric car stickers

A lot of people don’t realise my car is actually 100% electric powered, so I figured I needed to change that!

Free to use: 100% electric sticker design for electric vehicles

Free to use: 100% electric sticker design for electric vehicles

I threw together this image one afternoon and sent it to a printing shop here in Bratislava. They made a vinyl cut-out of the design and gave me two copies. I actually ordered two copies because I don’t trust my label applying skills!

It's 100% obvious that this vehicle is 100% electric!

It’s 100% obvious that this vehicle is 100% electric!

It was actually really easy to apply. I cleaned the rear window with window cleaner and gently applied the 100% electric decal on the back of the car.

download electric car sticker

100% awesome!

I love the plug on the end of the letter “c”.

So there you have it. I like the design because it’s clean and simple, but also because I’m guaranteed that people in the car behind me will start pointing and talking about the car. It’s a bit of cheeky fun whenever I find myself at red light!

If you want to download and use the design, please help yourself. Here is a direct link to the image:

Right-click on that link and select “Save link as”, then choose a place on your computer to store it. Then you can send it to a local printing shop and they can make an adhesive label for you. It’s that easy.

Some technical stuff: the “100% electric” image in that link is a PNG image created on a transparent background. Its dimensions are 3170 x 361 and my version was printed on vinyl lettering at 21 centimetres wide (8.2 inches).

You don’t need my permission to use it but I’d love it if you could send me a photo of your car afterwards! :)



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July 26th, 2015 at 2:27 pm

Electric car charging companies: get with the times!

Electric car in Vienna

A Slovak French Japanese electric car in Austria.

Yesterday I took my electric car to Vienna in Austria for what should have been a fun, carefree journey.

Unfortunately, due to fast-charging problems, it wasn’t.

Click here for the full story:

Or watch the video below. Things got so bad that I even put on a suit to complain!



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July 9th, 2015 at 2:17 pm

Radio Slovakia International

Radio Slovakia International has been broadcasting to the world since 1993, and I’m proud to be a member of its English language team. To show you a behind the scenes look at this remarkable instution, and that of Slovenský Rozhlas / Slovak Radio, here are a few interesting photos.

The Slovak Radio building, home of Radio Slovakia International. Part of RTVS. Budova slovenského rozhlasu.

Inside the Slovak Radio building, home of Radio Slovakia International

The building is an inverted pyramid, which as you can see has another pyramid on the inside. In fact, it’s the largest inverted pyramid building in the world.

Radio Slovakia International -

Radio Slovakia International –

The building is truly remarkable and if you’re in Slovakia I recommend checking it out.

The multi-layered, upside-down pyramid building from Slovak Radio in Bratislava.

The multi-layered, upside-down pyramid building from Slovak Radio in Bratislava.

If you look closely, you can see that there’s actually another inverted pyramid on the inside of the building which houses internal offices, and more offices running around the external pyramid. Both pyramids are joined by numerous horizontal walkways like the one pictured above.

Katarina Richterova and Gavin Shoebridge from Radio Slovakia International.

Katarina Richterova and Gavin Shoebridge from Radio Slovakia International.

A fun photo of me (Gavin Shoebridge) and my colleague (Katarina Richterova) in front of one of our many studios. I know I’m biased, but I recommend tuning in to Radio Slovakia International either via the internet (click here to listen right now!) or via shortwave radio, satellite radio, or WRN.

Or, follow Radio Slovakia International on Facebook by clicking here:

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July 3rd, 2015 at 12:11 pm

How to buy a car from a private seller in Slovakia

Gavin Shoebridge - electric car

I bought this electric car from a private seller, subsequently learning how the system works.

Buying a car privately in my home country of New Zealand is really easy: you hand over some money and change the ownership online via the Transport Ministry’s website. It takes about 10 minutes and you can do it from the comfort of your living room.

In Slovakia however it’s a little bit more bureaucratic (though things are getting better) and this bureaucracy can be enough to scare foreigners (and Slovaks) away from a buying a car from a private individual. This is a shame because there are some great bargains to be found outside the car dealers’ lots.

Don’t let this put you off, because it’s not as frightening as it might sound. Once you’ve found a car you like, there are actually only two things you need to do in order to own a car in Slovakia: buy PZP insurance, then change the ownership at the Transport Office. Let’s start with the easy one first.

1: Buy PZP insurance.

Third party vehicle insurance known as PZP (Povinné zmluvné poistenie) is mandatory in Slovakia, and you’ll need to prove the car is covered with this insurance to the Transport Office or you won’t be able to change the ownership. Don’t worry though, because you can buy this insurance right now via the internet. All major insurers offer it and here are a couple of links to get you going: Allianz or Generali (though their websites are only in Slovak).

PZP Povinné zmluvné poistenie

Certificate of PZP (Povinné zmluvné poistenie).

After buying PZP, you’ll be emailed a document similar to this one above which you must print out. I recommend printing out a copy of your payment confirmation if you paid for this insurance with internet banking to prove that it’s paid for and valid just in case the Transport Office staff ask. With the PZP insurance taken care of, let’s move onto the second part.

2: Change the ownership at the Transport Office.

This part involves filling out a change of ownership form and going to the Transport Office (Dopravný inšpektorát) with the seller. The change of ownership forms are available on the Interior Ministry website by clicking here.

Forms to changing ownership of a vehicle within the same locality (zmena držiteľa vozidla v okrese)

Example of the form needed to change ownership of a vehicle within the same locality (zmena držiteľa vozidla v okrese)

You can use the example I made above which includes all the details you need to fill in, in order to change the ownership. The blue text is things that don’t change, the red text is the previous owner’s details, and the green text is the new owner’s details. When you have that filled out, you can pop into the Transport Office.

Keep in mind that the above form is for buying a car within the same locality. If you buy or sell a car from a different locality (i.e. outside of Bratislava), you will need to re-register the car in your locality with new, local licence plates. That means more forms, more hassles, and more fees.

If you live in Bratislava then your only Transport Office is the wonderful Dopravný inšpektorát on Kopčianska street in Petržalka. Let me break down the procedure so that it doesn’t freak you out:

Go into the inspection area first and get your VIN number checked.

Go into the inspection area first and get your VIN number checked.

Get there there soon after the doors have opened early in the morning. This means you’ll only lose about 2 or 3 hours. Start by going straight into the inspection zone where a police officer will check your car’s VIN compared to your technical document.

He will then stamp the car’s technical document to say that everything matches up. Go and park the car, then go inside and get a number from the ticket machine near the door.

dopravny inspektorat kopcianska bratislava

It’s actually getting better (it used to be much worse).

Don’t panic because if you have PZP insurance and all the forms filled out the hardest part is just waiting.  It’s not scary; it’s just a bit bureaucratic.

You now have a little time on your hands as you wait for your number to be called.


A “Kolkomat” or electronic payment machine, inside the Transport Office.

While you are waiting you should buy “kolky” from one of the machines pictured above.

Kolky are a form of payment which allow you to pay for government services without state staff dealing directly with cash in order to reduce the risk of corruption. The cost to change the ownership of a car is €33. Some machines accept cash and others accept bank cards. The machine will print out some electronic kolky and you can sit down and wait.

dopravny inspektorat kopcianska bratislava

Playing the waiting game…

And wait and wait and wait. Oh yeah, make sure to bring a book with you or make sure your phone is charged up and full of good stuff to watch. This part can take a couple of hours on a busy day, like Friday.

If you’ve signed up for one of the new ID cards with an electronic signature then you can use the card to book a more precise time at the Transport Office, however I don’t, so I had to wait like everyone else.

Dopravny inspektorat v Bratislave

It’s not the most romantic building in Bratislava…

Before you know it, your number will be called and you’ll go and hand all the paperwork to a police officer. The next part is him just entering details into the computer and printing out a new technical document with the new owner’s details.

Then, before you know it, he’ll give you the new technical document and you’re done!

technický preukaz vozidla

The technical document (technický preukaz vozidla)

Your new technical document (shown above) must be with you when driving for up to 30 days, according to the police officer we spoke to.

In that time you will receive your plastic “techničák” via the post, which will replace the paper version and which can fit into your wallet. Store the paper version somewhere safe and use the plastic one from here on.

Gone are the bad old days of having to go back and wait in line at the Transport Office to pick it up.

New car; new techničák.

New car; new techničák.

The postman delivered my new techničák straight to my hands, and it’s all over. We’re done. Not so scary after all, huh?

I hope these instructions prove to be useful to you, and that it removes the cloud of doubt and confusion surrounding buying a car from a private seller in Slovakia.

If your Slovak isn’t too great I strongly recommend taking a native Slovak speaker with you to the Transport Office. Of course, if you’d rather save yourself the hassle althogether, buy from a dealer.


Šťastnú cestu / happy travels, and remember, please drive courteously. 


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