Tag Archives: sustainability

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.

How to make a difference

I’m in reflective mood today, so here’s some ideas on how to make a difference to the situation we find ourselves in regarding wrecking the planet.

Sorry if this sounds a bit political, but it strikes me there’s a lot of small things we could do that won’t affect our lives much but might just help to save the planet. Or at least make it last until it doesn’t concern me – about 30 years should do.

Eat less meat – unless you’re a vegetarian, because that won’t be possible. If you cut your meat eating by 50% you will save approximately one tonne of CO2 per year. You will probably live longer and be a little bit better off too. Pescatarians are only 2.5% more expensive (in carbon terms) than vegetarians (though I always consider them morally suspect, to be honest, particularly the ones who claim to be “vegetarian but I eat fish” – that’s not vegetarian at all). Vegan diets produce 25% less carbon than vegetarian diets.)

Go on holiday at home. A return flight between New York and London produces about a tonne of CO2. That means I’m giving up bacon sandwiches so you can have a holiday abroad? I don’t think so. Stop it!

Build a wildlife pond (even a small one) – that’s my new enthusiasm this week.

Don’t drive as far, and buy a more efficient car. We’re not all going to take to bikes anytime soon, not with my knees anyway, and the buses aren’t that good round my way so, being realistic, I need a car. It’s not too big, I don’t generally drive above 60, even on a motorway, and try to be economical in the way I drive as it saves money anyway.

Do something else (lists really need 3 or 5 or 10 items I always feel).. It just needs to be a small thing, or a few small things. I recently stopped having drinking straws when eating in fast food places. That will save about 750 straws over the course of my life. It isn’t much, but it’s now got me thinking about reducing other plastic, and about the number of times i eat fast food (remembering I sometimes have tea, not soft drinks).

That’s the depressing thing – I can actually find a lot of small changes to make and I’m only just starting to make them. I am, to be honest, a little bit ashamed of myself.

Keyhole Garden

After six months of discussion (the “we should build a keyhole garden” phase) and three more of procrastination (one of my better developed skills) we eventually entered the final phase of pre-building – the “do a few hours and then stop” phase. We’ve had a circle of bricks and roughly chopped earth waiting for us for a bout a month now, but with trees and lambs and such we haven’t had time to get on with it.

At the weekend we decided we needed to start work again. There’s frost forecast for next weekend, and that’s just what we need to break up some of the lumpier bits. If that isn’t enough there’s a whole list of other reasosn to get on with it – planting time coming up, the need to focus and the upcoming “Kenya Day” we’re having.

You will search in vail for any Kenyan National Holiday on 9th May, we just seem to have chosen 9th May as a convenient day. I’m not sure what is being organised because I’m trying to avoid adding to my workload, but it’s pretty certainly going to involve a reduction in the goat population round here. What? You didn’t think we were rearing goats for fun did you? Farmers, as we always tell the kids coming round, don’t keep pets.

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From the top left – The Start,. The next phase with drainage layer, keyhole and wood chippings applied and the compost cage in place. The compost cage lined with straw. My hard working staff starting to put soil on the layer of well-rotted pig manure. Close up of hard working staff, who by that time were starting to abuse the photographer and talk of tea. Final shot – most of the soil is in place – probably six to eight barrow loads for me and Julia to apply tomorrow and then we just have to let it settle for a while.

The theory is that you put compost in the central cage and water it, thus getting best value out of the water and the nutrients. Some beds are much more like raised beds but the bricks we had earmarked for the job ended up in a path so we’re having to make do with a lower wall. Despite this we will be getting an increase in surface area because of the slope. There are all sorts of keyhole beds, as you can see if you follow this link.

Time to talk toilets

We spend a lot of time here talking about toilets. and the correct way to use them. In fact, with three school groups in this week, each divided into two groups, we’ve talked about toilets three times and demonstrated six. They are plastic toilets at the centre, which always make it seem a bit like camping; they are variously known as separator, waterless or composting toilets.

The first two are true, as they do separate liquid from solids and they do not use water. I think that sums it up – it can be difficult to get the point across without dumbing down to nursery level, or making it sound like a Latin lesson. They don’t let me do it as my vocabulary tends to slip…

Composting? Not really. The liquids are piped away and used when we fill a barrel and the solids are removed in biodegradable bags on a regular basis and composted on a separate site. The products are composted but the toilet doesn’t actually do the composting.

The trouble we have is that we are in a village, and a village that isn’t 100% sure that they want us here. Adding to this uncertainty by adding piles of humanure to the landscape would be a step too far. I’m committed to using humanure after reading an eBook about it but I have to keep reminding myself that the author was living in an isolated house in the American woods.

The truth is that the humanure isn’t theonly important part of the process. We live on a small, densely populated island and lack space to store water: we can’t keep using drinking water to dispose of our waste. I can’t find figures for the UK but in USA toilet flushing accounts for 27% of water use. I have no reason to think we would be much different in our water wasting habits, particularly in view of the car washing habits of my neighbours, and when you think what people in Africa go through to get clean water this just seems wrong.

 

Christmas gathers momentum

When the Christmas jumpers start you know that the big day can’t be far off.

Today we’ve done more decorations and we’ve been working for Shipshape Arts, a company describing themselves as an “artistic creation company”. They are based in a barn on the farm and do quite a bit for us – including helping us with the Education tent at Flintham Show and making the quoits we will using for the Christmas hoopla. In return we try to help them a bit, though “help” may be be putting it a bit strongly.

Today they gave people hats. You can see them being worn in the main picture. Of course, not everyone got a hat. For some reason I didn’t, despite the fact that my poor bald head needs some warmth. Just saying…

This is one of the statues that they put up for us recently – looked at from this angle it’s a bit more noticeable than it is when you stand on the back of the Ecocentre looking across the field. The stone that looks like it’s on the right comemorates the air crash in 1944 – it’s actually on the left but there’s a curve in the road.

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This is one of “The Sweepers” that were originally shown at the Southbank Centre Festival of Neighbourhood. We also have “The Neighbours”, who were also at the Olympic Park before coming up here. Did you know there was a market in second-hand statues? I didn’t. It was quite a performance putting them up, with low-loaders, forklifts, power tools and lots of helpers.

This is “The Neighbours” taken from a deceptive angle, inreality they are several hundred yards from the kitchen.

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We’re decorating the Christmas tree now. It’s a bit early for me (though I’m not the biggest fan of Christmas, to be fair) but it’s turkey tasting time this weekend and we are aiming for a Christmas Dinner feel to the centre.

Finally – I nearly got a picture of a bird feeding at the table. We’ve had great tits, blue tits, pigeons, chaffinches, robins, house sparrows, greenfinches, starlings and wood pigeons so far. It could be better but we’re hoping it will build up as time goes on. Meanwhile they are all quick to take flight and added to a cheap camera and poor light levels I haven’t much to show for my photographic efforts. Looks like I’m going to have to borrow my wife’s camera or wait until the butterflies come back in summer.

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At least you can tell it’s a robin, most of the others have been unidentifiable blurs.

Meetings, sticks, stars and crows

We had two meetings yesterday and they generated enough work to fill most of today. They didn’t fill it with anything useful but emails from people at the meetings have comprehensively instructed me how to suck eggs as well as sucking the fun out of the day. If I say the most productive part iof the day was making stars out of willow sticks and garden twine you will see what I mean. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA   One tip for making stuff with willow – make sure it’s dry for this sort of work. We normally have it wet to enable us to bend it  and it didn’t occur to me when I originally made these last week that they would shrink and the bindings would loosen to the extent that some of the stars actually fell apart. Not that it was all bad, we went shopping for supplies for the group this morning and had a good view of carrion crows hopping on the tops of cars. Not sure why, and couldn’t get close enough for a really good shot because I always get embarrassed when people start looking at me with the camera.

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Nearly Christmas

Yes, it’s nearly Christmas – just over a month away. You can tell that when the turkeys leave the farm, as they did on Saturday. They will be back in a while, with their giblets shoved somewhere undignified and a complimentary sprig of rosemary. Meanwhile we have cleaned out the chiller (we tend to use it as an apple juice store at this time of year).

My original plan for Christmas was to have beef as the family has asked not to have turkey this year. That was replaced with a cunning plan for a seasonal recipe – reindeer pie. Then I saw the price. Back to beef, I think. Rudolph is safe for another year.

Today we started the decorating in earnest – we’re scouring the hedges for foraged decorations and going for a Victorian Christmas look. It’s sustainable and cheap, and keeps people occupied

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