Category Archives: Permaculture

The Coming Year (Part 2)

The plan for the year is gradually coming together, which is good, because I want something to take my mind off yesterday.

First, I’m spending time on getting my health in order. This isn’t really an active choice, after the pre-Christmas admission to hospital it was more or less forced on me. I’m in hospital tomorrow, though I’ve already covered that.

Second, I’m doing more exercise and making sure I get out in the open air. We said we would do it and although it’s a bit patchy it’s going quite well. Having blown a few cobwebs away I’m now feeling a lot fitter. Again, it’s not taking a lot of effort as I like getting out with the camera and binoculars.

Third, we’re putting a few plans in place for holidays- a long weekend in the Lakes and a week on Mull. Last time we had a full week the Beijing Olympics were on. Again, it’s not difficult to manage this.

Fourth, we have the permaculture and nature books out and we’re planning the changes in the garden. We’ll start with a good tidy (we’ve neglected it badly over the last couple of years due to the time we’ve spent on the farm) and see how it goes. This is going to take more effort. I’m starting with a wildlife pond and gooseberry bushes. Well, you have to start somewhere.

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Washing up basin wildlife pond

Fifth, we need to declutter the house  and do some decorating. (See comments in Four). So far I’ve taken some books to charity shops. Every journey starts with a single step…

Sixth is weight loss. No plan just yet, it’s just sitting their like the elephant in the room. That’s what Julia has started calling me anyway.

The featured picture is a Robin from Rufford Abbey, all puffed up against last week’s cold.  It’s hard to beat a Robin photo for cheeriness.

The Day that Permaculture Died

We went to the farm today to go through the tree measuring protocols so they can carry on measuring after we leave. Imagine our surprise when we walked out of the back door of the centre.

Something is missing.

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The day that Permaculture died…

Do you recognise this blasted heath? Looks a bit like as mass grave of all our ambitions, concealed under a carpet of woodchip.

As a clue, it used to look like this.

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Raised beds at the Ecocentre, Screveton

It’s not the greatest comparison photograph but I never thought to take one. After five years of planting, experiment and soil improvement we hadn’t thought that the beds would be flattened without warning. Nor had we thought our plants would just be ripped out and discarded.

In plant terms we lost sorrel, wild strawberries, lavender, chives, marigolds, fennel, mint, nasturtiums (though they were in winter remission), rocket, radish leaves, leeks and fat hen.

I keep saying I’m going to look forward and not complain, so I’ll stop here.

 

 

 

Men in Sheds, eating scones

Bob brought some of his store of plum jam and Julia provided the scones. Really we should have made scones but we haven’t been able to get into the kitchen much this week (due to the preparations for the run) so it was off to the shop.

Everyone seemed to enjoy them, anyway and we will be making more jam in a fortnight when he is going to bring us some plums.

Next Tuesday we are going to visit a permaculture project. It’s not that Men in Sheds are particularly interested in permaculture, but the Farmer is interested in using them as free labour to build a permaculture project in the allotments. Presumably that means another year when we can’t plan anything for the allotment.

With any luck it will be something like the one we planned two years ago but weren’t allowed to do.

Planning is not a strong point of this project…

Can you add your own version of a heart-rending sigh here please.

Anyway, I enjoyed the scones and some chicks have hatched so it’s been a good day. In a moment I’m hoping to take Julia away for lunch and have an afternoon off.

 

Trees, trees, trees…

 

Life isn’t all bird feeders. Some of us (as Julia told me meaningfully) have serious work to do. Today, the serious work was measuring the micro-climate in the agroforestry project. I’m not sure how long we’ve been doing it now, but we’re getting to a point where we will have to measure the trees again. That will be easy, as they aren’t much more than sticks at the moment. What we need to do is start taking photographs of ourselves standing next to them, and take the same photo every year.

It’s amazing how trees creep up on you. I grew up opposite a church. The grass by the roadside was a wide, clear verge. For some reason they decided to plant trees there and one day a thicket of weedy saplings appeared with sticks and tree guards. They looked ill and we all wondered why the church was bothering.

Those trees are now gnarled birches with fissured trunks and green algae. They look like they are a remnant of ancient forest, though I’m sure I was in my twenties when they were planted. Before you say anything, no, I am not that old.

One day, these twiggy sticks will be an orchard (admittedly a long, thin orchard), and one day our measurements will be a Woodland Trust research project. It’s amazing what patience can do.

As Warren Buffett is reported to have said: We are sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago. 

 

 

Agroforestry

I’ve been asked for more detail on the agroforestry project we’re running. If you aren’t interested in agroforestry/permaculture the next few minutes could be quite boring. If you are interested, you may find the next few minutes lacking in detail; as with so many things, I have a wide but shallow knowledge of the subject.

If I say it’s also known as alley cropping it may help you envisage what I’m trying to describe. The video here gives a good explanation, though it’s American so the crops differ.

The idea is that although we give up some land to the trees they will have financial benefits when we crop the apples and other less quantifiable benefits, including shelter, micro-climate, biodiversity and  organic matter.

The organic matter will come from the leaves in autumn and the smaller prunings, which will be left to rot.

Biodiversity will result from the trees giving homes to a range of birds and insects. Hopefully this will result in some form of biological pest control, though I’m not sure that it won’t also offer a have to pests. I must look that up.

The final benefits are shelter and better micro-climate. That’s what we are trying to measure. Common sense tells you that the trees will act as wind breaks and that it should be warmer in the alleys (if the wind is coming from the side). As with  a lot of common sense, nobody has any figures to back it up. There are figures on the internet about the wind breaking power of trees, and their capacity to form warm micro-climates but it seems there isn’t much evidence to back it up.

At the moment we measure the wind speed and temperature at various points in the alleys every month. The Woodland Trust has provided the equipment and training for this and we send them the results each time we measure. We also measure the trees once a year, though it’s not very difficult at the moment with them being shorter than I am. The test will come in a year or two when we see if we’ve been able to remember how to use the inclinometers.

This measuring will be done for the next 20 or 25 years (I forget exactly, as I won’t be here by then) and will, we hope, be very useful in calculating the benefits of this sort of planting.

 

It’s that time again…

It’s tree time again, taking the climate readings between the rows of trees in the agroforestry area. We’re still not seeing much difference in wind and temperature between the rows, but as the trees are still rather stick-like this isn’t really a surprise. Hopefully they will start to modify the micro-climate more as they start to leaf up.

There are still over 23 years of the measuring project to go so there is plenty of time for something to develop.

As you can see, the rhubarb (which we grew from seed last year) is looking reasonable, though I don’t think we will be pulling much this year. It is accompanied by a number of random daffodils, and I have to confess I haven’t a clue as to why we have them there or who planted them. I suppose it looks springlike.

Some more on kites (which were known as “paddocks” in bygone days). It’s by John Clare, who was born not too far from where the kites now fly. I took it from the Yorkshire Red Kite site.

“Ah, could I see a spinney nigh,
A paddock riding in the sky,

Above the oaks, in easy sail,
On stilly wings and forked tail.”

John Clare (c1820)

What I now need is a picture of a kite over an oak, now where can I find one…

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A paddock riding in the sky

 

 

 

 

Building with mud

People have commented on our mud walls at times, the most recent being a comment from clarepooley33 – author of A Suffolk Lane. Coincidentally, it was close to her, just over the border from Norfolk, that I first found out about mud building. As a child we used to visit a friend of my father in Norfolk, and he first pointed out the duckponds in the gardens of old houses. The normal procedure in bygone days had been to build the walls from mud that was dug close to the property – creating a house and a pond simultaneously.

Cob, as it is often known has a long history as a building material in the UK and it is still relevant today. Much of it is confined to the south-west and the east of the the country, but as wattle and daub it is much more widespread.

Our walls are actually rammed earth. In truth, I’m not clear about the difference between cob and rammed earth but it seems to be that cob incorporates animal dung and straw to help bind it, whereas rammed earth is just soil.

Our wall is used as an internal wall and acts as a storage heater. Sunlight enters the windows at the front of the building and heats the wall, which then slowly discharges that heat. We have four solar panels on the front to heat water for the underfloor heating and with the earth wall, and the straw bale walls in the rest of the building, we manage to keep warm. Even in the middle of winter we don’t have much trouble keeping the  temperature up to 18-21 degrees centigrade. Yesterday, with an outside temperature of 8 degrees, we were 23 degrees inside. The main problem is that people leave doors open when entering or leaving the building and once heat is lost it can be slow to build up again.

The other problem is that the surface breaks up. We didn’t start using the building until after the walls were up (we first visited when the plaster was being applied to the straw bales) but I have been told that the problem is that they incorporated large pieces of gravel in the mix, and this has caused the crumbling.

This picture shows (if you look at the top edge of the unit) the crumbling that occurred overnight.

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You can see the large bits in the wall. When the thin pieces around the stones dries it seems to crumble away. We dust the units and sweep the floors regularly.

The white pipe is where the bolts securing the shuttering went through the wall during the building process.

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Close up of the wall showing large pieces, crumbling, a patch and some random organic material that got into the mix.

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You can see how the wall is built up from layers in this photo, and you can also see out awards for sustainability, education and land use – not that I’m showing off or anything…

Incidentally, the flooring is recycled from a fire damaged building and the cupboards are second-hand units donated by Belvoir Interiors of Newark, who also gave us all our kitchen fittings.

If you want a look at an earth wall try this link. It should take you to the Google picture of an earth wall, with thatched roof, on the A605 in Whittlesey – but I’ve never tried to link to a Google Map before.