April 2011

Fertile waters

When we dug out the trench for the polytunnel we found some sections of clay. This seemed a resource I should not miss so I investigated turning ground clay into the clay used in pottery, and with the help of you tube developed a plan.
The lumps of clay /earth were dried off in the greenhouse for several weeks. This was crushed and then sieved through increasingly fine mesh all the time removing stones and grass. The final fine powder is now ready for mixing again with water so that the fine light particles will float to the surface and the heavy clay particles sink. I am not totally sure what to do after this stage.
There is a well on the land so a well dressing is needed with a nice watery deity to ensure a continuing supply. I would also like to make a mosaic in the future as I was really inspired by the mosaics at the Bardo Museum in Tunis.
At the moment I am not sure how to colour the clay to get enough different colours for a mosaic. I don’t really want to get into glazing at this stage but maybe adding pigments would do the trick, these would need to go in now at the powder stage. I am near a copper mountain so that could provide some colour. I also need to look at firing and kiln building.

We now have pigs and a fine strong pair of boys they are too. They have settled into a routine of 9am feed and a 5 pm feed that does mean we can go out for the day if we need to. The chickens day is totally dictated by the sun, so they do not go to bed until very late just now, and yet the pigs have a stomach clock, so we have two different routines to get used to. Although the pigs are mainly black they have a white band around the shoulders this means they get sunburnt. One piggy is very calm and lies down in a nice way while I rub mud over him. The other piggy is very silly so I run round and round the field after him while he squeals and runs around in circles. He usually ends up with some sunburn, but at least I am not rubbing suntan cream on them. As the pigs can be seen from the road they have created interest in passes by and bartering is already being suggested.
One of the hens has just become broody we have collected together some eggs and popped them under her. Llewellen (Dad) is strutting about, looking handsome, and keeping an eye on her. She is taking up one of the nest boxes so now all the other girls, Llewellen and ourselves have been pecked quite badly, still baby chicks in about 3 weeks.
Ted is now turning the tractor shed into his own workshop, one end has been bricked up and vented creating a cool room for food storage the rest is starting to take shape as an Edwardian production unit

The greenhouse is an increasing hive of activity with plants getting stronger and being potted on. I have some shelves outside to strengthen up the plants. With the polytunnel now taking larger crops; currently full of broad beans. The planting area in the greenhouse is to be for smaller or fiddly crops, I have herbs like coriander, cumin, basil and caraway also the habereno chillies and ginger. The main chillies, peppers and tomatoes can go into the polytunnel when they are big enough. The seed drill was flourished again for a few rows of fodder peas to finish off the oat bed and I shall plant a final row of sunflowers along the neighbouring fence.

The planning permission had a condition that we built a passing place prior to building, this needed its own planning permission, we submitted drawings and all the necessary documentation- this was lost, we submitted it again one document at a time getting acknowledgement for each and every document as it arrived. Our assigned officer is now off sick, no one else has access to his work. All things considered it has become apparent that no building work is likely to happen this year if ever; so it has become increasingly important to make our current abode more comfortable mainly in the form of a bigger better compost toilet.

We have collected some big free water butts. These have been put together as water collectors from the tractor shed roof so now I have water for all the plants, and a pump from the well fills these tanks if there is low rainfall.
My swanky seaweed container takes water from the chicken shed roof which also has in it seaweed, ash from the fire and nettles. This can sit for 2 months from then on being topped up, I can draw off the liquid with a tap and about a 1 to 10 ratio will give me a high potassium feed.
The plants are all showing signs of potassium deficiency caused by the creeping buttercup so I am having a 2-pronged approach. Refuelling the soil with the magic mix and now as the buttercups are in flower I am popping up the flower with its stolon with the end of my dibber. The improved drainage of the land from the willows and alders along with some intensive weeding should get rid of them or at least get the numbers into manageable proportions and improve the soils nutrition. As I do not have much to think about when pulling up these little jiggers I have estimated that there are about 4000 so that will keep me busy for a day or two

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March 2011

Weaners in Weed

Having planted many trees a lot of time has been spent consolidating that work with support stakes, rabbit guards and labels.

As spring comes along the trees are beginning to bud and it is all very exciting. Keeping the mulch layer down is quite a repetitive task and I can see that soon we will also need to cut the surrounding grass.
The poo piles are fenced off and ready for planting. We have fenced of a paddock for pigs and the remaining area is being mulched with a mixture of straw, cardboard, cotton sheets and bark.It takes a lot of material but is beginning to take shape and feel a little woodland
Monthly workdays at Bangor Forest garden help keep us in touch with what the land will look like in years to come.

We decided to get pigs. It will be a few years before we are feeding ourselves entirely so this seems good use of the land in the meantime. Also they will grub out the grass and fertilise the soil.
Defa issued us with a holding number. Next we researched what breed of pig we wanted and Saddlebacks seem to combine good taste, hardy outdoor breed that are good on pasture. So far so good next to trace the pigs this is when it all started to go wrong I could not find any pigs anywhere. Feeling a little sulky I was planting new potatoes when a car pulled up and a lovely lady stopped to say hello and introduce herself and she had the contact of a saddleback breeder on the island so all was happy again and the weaners arrive soon.

PhempWe built an unconventional pigpen as a way of practicing the building techniques we want to use on the house. A stud frame in timber was shuttered to tamp in a hemp and lime mix, this has been lime rendered and we are awaiting results, we are going to put timber cladding round the outside to protect it from the worst of the elements and have a peek at it as time passes to see how it gets on
The oats arrived and needed to get into the ground in mid march. The straw had reduced the grass considerably but not fully so we used the 1930’s Planet Junior seed drill to plant the seeds, this was really hard graft but now they are in it should be a fairly maintenance free field until harvest in August. Some of the field is unplanted so we will put peas in there soon
The tractor shed is gradually turning into a workshop with pantry and poor weather sees Ted in here pottering.

Observing the land whilst living here has been very useful It would be ideal to live here a year without planting anything in close observation but unfortunately we are not in a position to do this. The speed and varying direction of the wind has caused us to increase the strength of the windbreak around the edge of the land and we have also planted more lines of willow to break up the wind further.
We decided to put in a polytunnel mainly to have a spot where plants could grow protected from the wind. It took a while to find the right spot for the tunnel and the best decision came when we decided to get a smaller tunnel than we originally intended, we went for a 14ft wide tunnel rather than 18ft this brought down the height and wind age, we went for closer hoop spacing and extra thick metal work all in all it should withstand the gales. It took a week to erect as the metal work had to be positioned with precision and the tunnel was cut into a slope.
Once the metal work was up the plastic was relatively easy to put on although it is rather taught; I have some broad beans in already and it is beginning to take shape
PwaterbuttsThe greenhouse is bursting with life March seedlings are all coming through and we have salad to eat now. In the poo piles are broad beans, rhubarb, potatoes, asparagus, parsnips and radish. The seedlings in the greenhouse will need to move out to the polytunnel, poo piles or forest floor to make way for the next sweep of seeding. CDs hanging are being used as scarecrows but it is difficult to find a way of keeping them swinging so that is another work in progress
Pond life flourishes a huge mass of frogspawn appeared but it did not look very healthy after frosts however there are a few tadpoles swimming around. Quite a healthy looking amount of plants are establishing naturally and some dragonfly maggots appear to be round the edges
Llewellen the Cockerel one evening called out an alarm and gathered the girls around him; they all lined up and looked across the ditch making worried noises; this alerted Ted to the opposite bank where there was a hedgehog setting out in a spring evening to find some slugs and what a welcome inclusion to our homestead he is.

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A story of finding an old barn with 2 acres of land in Anglesey Wales, buying it and building an eco house and forest garden. We are aiming to be as self-sufficient as possible and do all the work developing the site ourselves.

This is our diary

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January 2011

Planting Alder

Planting Alder

January has been a woody month a month of trees 1300 trees have been planted

It began on January 1st with 800 willows. To plant willows you just poke a hole of the same diameter as the willow cutting into the ground and push the 30cm stick in half way up its length. 700 of these willows are Viminalis Riefenweide a recent fast growing hybrid; suited to high costal winds and can be used as a windbreak and for fuel. This has been positioned between the pond and fruit tree area as a solid block offering further wind protection to the fruit trees and helping to drain the low wet clay area of the land. Willows are hungry trees so they will be fed with the compost toilet and a gap is kept between the block of willows and other trees. Next year the entire block will be harvested then they shall be on a 4-year rotation providing heating fuel. 100 of the willows are Dicks, Darks, and Light, Lancashire and Green these are all basketry willows, which will be harvested each autumn for baskets and rustic stuff

Willows start at the pond edge

We have planted a coppice. 20 Ash, which are separate from the main coppice wood as they are reputed to have a negative allopathic effect on other trees. I have put 2 Lime trees in the group of Ash they coppice and provide minerals to the surrounding soil I will observe if they survive the Ash negative effect hopefully they will as they are there to do the Ash good

Alongside this coppice is a 60 tree mixed coppice Hazel in the darkest area surrounded by Alder Glutinosa a nitrogen fixer which does coppice and False Acacia/Black Locust another nitrogen fixer and mineral accumulator which produces a pea which is good for chicken feed it is also good construction timber. The coppice trees are spaced 1meter apart to encourage tall straight growth as they compete for light

South wind break

The shelterbelt along the South and West boundary is 300 alders; Cordata on the higher dry ground and Glutinosa and Ruba on the lower ground. These are fast growing nitrogen fixing trees capable of withstanding high winds; They grow to around 15 meters and give wind protection for 10 times the height in distance so when fully grown it will be a wind fee zone 100 m from the shelter belt which is well past us our land. The northern edge has a line of sea buckthorn another nitrogen fixer, which is good in costal winds it provides a citrus fruit and is very thorny so we are using it along the public road as a security fence. 2 neighbouring houses protect the Northeastern edge from wind and trees already line the eastern boundary

We have also planted out the exciting fruit and nut trees. Anglesey has culled the grey squirrel so we are hoping for a substansional nut crop planting Hazel, Almond and Chestnut. We have Apples, Pears, Damsons and Plum from a local supplier who has specialised in discovering and saving rare Welsh varieties of fruit trees. In amongst these trees are nitrogen fixing mineral accumulators which fruit and have edible leaves and further fruit trees. Most of the fruiting trees are not self fertile so at least 2 varieties have been planted

For the lower layer planted in amongst the trees are gooseberries, blackcurrants, and raspberries. Also I have some blueberries for a particularly acid patch of land that I hope to work to advantage. I will put a full list of plants in the Forest Garden section of the site

With all these tart fruits I was worried about the amount of sugar I would need so was looking around for Stevia plants which I used to pick up on the market in France. Discovering they are illegal in most of Europe and Northern America due to Tate and Lyle arguments against the producers. As it is used widely in Japan and Southern America I was able to buy seeds from ebay; An unmarked Jiffy bag of illegal seed heads arrived successfully from Paraguay and I am attempting to start those in the green house T&L sniffer dogs should not be able to smell these from the road

I have also many seeds for the forest floor with herbs, bee attractors and useful flowers alongside more normal food seeds from Garden Organics and Heritage Seed Library. These have been organised into planting times around the Luna cycle with leafy plants planted during a waxing moon and root plants during a waning moon I have done this as a way of organising the plant diary for the next few months and my fridge is rather full of jam jars of sand and seeds

Many of the seeds are conventional and will go into the annual beds this has been fenced and I have planted a mixed hedgerow around the fence of Sloes, Hazel, Crab Apple, Wild Rose, Dogwood, Lime and Alder these should all layer and grow into a nice low hedge to offer further wind protection and encourage beneficial insects and provide food

Normally I would mulch with a thick layer of cardboard and straw but I do not have enough cardboard for everything. Therefore the oat paddock, coppice, willows and windbreak are being mulched with just a thick layer of straw and hopefully this will be enough to keep the competing grass down.

The straw comes from a farm very close by these are huge bails about 20 times the conventional size we get 2 onto the trailer then we have devised a cunning plan for getting them out of the back of the trailer when they were out we noticed the chickens quite like the straw so we distributed piles of straw to the areas we wanted mulch and left it to the chickens to spread and check for seed heads its nice to see them earning their chicken treats

Pull the straw out of the trailer

Chickens get on straw

Earning a crust

The poo piles, oat bed and entrance in and out have all had gates built from pallets we will also use pallets around the pigpen and poo beds to cut down wind this year until the shelters grow. These pallets come from a factory close by which let us take away as much as we can carry so a pallet conversion section of the workshop is very busy.


The tractor shed is beginning its transformation into a workshop circa 1925 with the collection of period machinery and engines, which will be used later in the project.

Stuff to make stuff with

We are rounding up January by trying to finish work on the land and workshop for now and begin the building preparations. Our planning permission has finally come through and we have had a first meeting with the building inspector to plan progress so this should be the main focus of February

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