In the words of others…

We’ve been flat out with gardening, feeding/cleaning/training animals, working and, the latest, doing structural work knocking down a wall and opening the fireplace, where the wood burning range cooker/boiler will go. There is not much time and not much else to say at the mo, but here are some quotes we have read in the last few weeks:

A few from John Seymour’s book The Fat of the Land:

“If a man does not undertake some really hard and even violent manual work fairly often he becomes soft, his arteries harden, his heart weakens, he puts on fat, he develops blood pressure, his liver gets hob-nailed – I hate to think what he looks like inside. And outside he doesn’t look much better.”

“[T]he simple life, alas, once you really try to lead it, leads you into all this complication! You cannot live, and rear a family, on your own little share of your country, growing your own food, preserving and processing it, without this vast assemblage of tools and implements.”

“I know the modern […] worker is supposed to lead an “easier” life than, say, a French peasant. But I wonder if this supposition is correct. And I wonder if, whether “easier” or not, it is a better life? Simpler? Healthier? More spiritually satisfying? or not? I don’t wonder very long.”

“In Wales life changed for us completely. […] Our neighbours had not yet all given up brewing their own beer, killing their own pigs, and living largely from their own holdings. This fact made life immediately pleasanter for us: we no longer felt like freaks.”

We also recently read John Seymour’s book “I’m a Stranger Here Myself, the Story of a Welsh Farm”, where we read this poem:

“It’s no good asking me the way guvnor
I’m a stranger here myself
If you don’t know the way I don’t
And anyway the way to where?
Where is it that you want to get mate?
Someone said: ‘I am the Way’
But he didn’t make it clear where to
There’s plenty of ways of course
This way and that way and the other way over there
They all lead somewhere – but is it anywhere you want to go?
Oh I’m a fool am I?
I see
Well I may be a fool master but I do know where I be
I live in a bubble of air I do
With a rock in it
Hurtling through Eternity
No it’s no good asking me the way guvnor
I’m a stranger here myself
That’s me.”

And here are a few other quotes:

“Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad – or an economist.” JFK’s environmental adviser, Kenneth Boulding

“One never notices what has been done; one can only see what needs to be done.” Marie Curie

“Do not squander time. That is the stuff that life is made of.” Engraving from an old sundial.

“Never invest in an idea you can’t illustrate with crayon.” Wall Street investor Peter Lynch.

Officially a Smallholding

It’s been a few weeks since our last update, the blossom has been and gone and life at Penybanc has changed quite a bit.

We are both now living here properly, which is a relief not to be doing the slog backwards and forwards to London on a weekly basis. We took just over a couple of weeks off our office jobs (hurray for the bank holidays) and started it all off with some visits from friends, which gave us a good excuse for a a couple of days of sight-seeing and relaxing a little, including driving to the Elan Valley to see some beautiful scenery and impressive reservoirs.

All in all we thoroughly enjoyed the driest April for 60 years and were chuffed to even be credited by one of the local farmers for bringing the glorious weather!

Then the excitement started when we went to Glyn Elwyn to collect our two 9 week old Berkshire weaners. This went surprisingly smoothly and they seemed pretty relaxed for the drive to Penybanc. We caught them as expertly demonstrated to us and put them into their new home. They look and sound pretty happy in their new surroundings, grunting and rooting around in piggy fashion. We added a scratching post due to popular demand, which is how we interpreted having our legs used for this purpose!

 The piggies are already growing very fast and it would be easy to waste a lot of time watching them. We got a little scared that they might have parasites, but actually they are little scrappers and the strange lumps turned out to be small scabs, the result of some boisterous rough play. We’re hoping that, being boars, they might be such a handful that it will make taking them to slaughter (when the time comes) a little easier to bear….

Our next arrival to Penybanc was Dusk, who is a bitch tri-colour border collie who we got from Gwinion. We had a mad dash to get her house (an old pig sty) ready for her, as she will sleep outside in the hope that she will scare off foxes and the like… although she  is a way off that at the moment. The pig sty is now water tight and has an insulated roof and floor and Dusk made herself at home pretty quickly. Our productivity in terms of getting our jobs done has dropped off somewhat since her arrival, but it is totally worth it – even if it means sleepless nights and cleaning lots of poo!! After being here only a week and despite being only 10 weeks old, Dusk seems to be learning incredibly fast, which tends to wear out both her and her trainer…

Twenty one days ago we were given some fertilised eggs that we put into an incubator. Today, hatching has commenced and we now have three chicks out, one just pipping and we can hear cheeping from at least a couple more eggs. So our number of livestock are increasing at an amazing rate!

 

 

 

 

So spring is now in full swing and Penybanc is full of babies including baby apples and baby pears.

After what felt like forever, we finally got rain just in the nick of time for our seedlings and newly planted trees, so everything is growing like mad and we are turning our attention to fighting off slugs and caterpillars.

So we leave you with a photo of our bed of potatoes which will hopefully give us some earlies in June as well as a photo from the top of the orchard. Love to you all from south Wales!

Microgeneration and Solar Power

So… here’s our first ‘info-blog’ where we try to share some of our research and experiences with you guys in case you are considering something similar – or just because you want to regale your friends down the pub with newfound greeny knowledge.

There’s SOOOO much information out there about renewable energy in general and solar panels in particular that I obviously can’t give you more than an ‘amuse bouche’ without going on for hours. The aim, which I’ll try to keep in mind, is to consolidate the days of trawling through websites, talking to engineers and nosing through text books and give you the key points that led us to make the decisions that we have over our solar installation. I’m also going to assume that you have a desire to reduce your impact on the environment and reliance on fossil fuels… I don’t have the energy right now to be persuading the cynics.

I’ll pitch it at the novice and keep it quite general, so if you do want extra info, don’t hesitate to get in touch. And beware – I’m NO EXPERT so don’t take my word for it if you’re making any decisions… ask one!

Making the choice

That nagging itch over energy sustainability, reliance on fossil fuels, pollution and the hole the energy companies are burning in your wallet is beginning to become a little much… what are your options? Well, I’m going to break down a home’s energy requirements into 2 areas; electrical and heat. These, I believe, form the largest and most logical groups of energy consumption in the household

(In later posts we might consider light, kinetic/gravitational and chemical energy all of which play their own critical parts…).

This first instalment focuses on electricity and next time I’ll waffle on about heat.

The House and Achievements so far…

When we decided we wanted to live at Penybanc, the decision was made before  entering the house, as the primary factors in selecting a suitable location for trying to achieve self-sufficiency related almost entirely to the land. These were our crucial requirements in searching for a smallholding (the reasons are at the very end of the blog* for those who are interested):

  • The location.
  • The size – a minimum of 7 or 8 acres.
  • The aspect – south-facing, flat or gently sloping land.
  • Layout – land surrounding the house, divided into small (acre or so) enclosures.
  • Fertile and well-drained soil.
  • Outbuildings.
  • Broadleaf woodland.
  • If possible, a mature orchard, although we thought this was a pipe dream!

Our requirements, in terms of the house, were a south facing roof and (in a Goldilocks sort of way) a building that didn’t need too much work but enough that we wouldn’t be paying for things we were going to rip out and change as, amongst other things, we would be:

  1. changing the central heating  system to run off a combination of wood and solar;
  2. insulating it as much as possible, not just the roof but also the windows and walls; and
  3. putting up photovoltaic panels (PVs) for our electricity needs.

So when we read the estate agent’s description, we knew that Penybanc would be a strong contender and it was also in the least remote location we had been too. We arrived at the viewing half an hour early, so we walked up to the top of the field behind the house and I, promptly, burst into tears and decided this was where I wanted to put down some roots. This is of course Jules (ahem), writing this blog. Soppy git.

But now I want to pay tribute to the house. It is not what I think anyone would call a beautiful building. Somewhere in its bowels, there lurks the origins of an early 19th century (possibly even mid 18th century, who knows?!) stone cottage; so some walls are three foot thick stone. Then, sometime in the 70s (we think, as there are no planning records…) a rather large extension was plonked around it. This is the first photo we took:

So the house turned out to be almost perfect, with large windows to enjoy the views ands let in lots of light, it’s structurally sound with spacious rooms that mean we can afford to lose some space by insulating from the inside. Ideally, for us, it also has ropey plumbing that would have needed replacing even if we had wanted (and could afford!) to stay on oil central heating. The first thing we did was to have the aluminium windows replaced with the most energy efficient windows we could find. The next was to take the trees and bushes down around the house, which would allow some airflow and prevent damp and allow light to reach the roof, with the added benefit of providing us with a load of wood. This is all you could see of the house before the tree felling:

We have a lot of people to thank for helping to take down and log the various trees (but this isn’t an Oscar speech so sorry, you don’t get a mention!). Although what I am about to say will no doubt offend any hardcore tree huggers who believe in doing things by manpower alone, it is also worth mentioning that we couldn’t have managed all these trees without a chainsaw.

But we are the X Generation of tree huggers, believing that technology is not evil (even if the resulting large industry is mostly destructive in its effects) and we are trying to figure out the balance between using fossil fuels and technology where it is efficient and logical to do so. We could not chop down all those trees without the chainsaw because we might lack the manpower or skills, although I’m sure Jules could manage tree felling with an axe if given the time, which is what we really lack as we still have day jobs to afford this whole venture! Sorry, I have totally digressed – back to the house. Once we had cleared all the trees, the roof was clear of shade and ready for donning its hat of solar panels:

Since the installation went in three and a half days ago (of which one and a half  have been gloomy and overcast) we have made 41 KW hours of energy – hurray! I’ll let Jules, in another blog, explain the intricacies of the new system.

Another bit of progress (where machine power – and our neighbours – saved the day) is the yard. We had not even seen this part of our land as the brambles had completely overtaken. Our very first day at Penybanc, we attacked the brambles with a slasher and branch cutters (that’s how fat the brambles were!). Then our neighbour pointed out that he could clear that area in no time with his digger. This is before clearing the area:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also had some help to level the yard from a nearby farmer. A job which we (and the farmer) thought would take 2 days took 5 days in the end, so we owe our neighbour (who pitched in to help the farmer) some labour to repay the favour, which we are more than happy to do (although he only seems to want Jules’ labour, I can’t imagine why?)! We are very grateful for the wonderful results of all their hard work. This was one of our first experiences of neighbourly cooperation, which felt great after the unpleasantness in Hackney!

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s all I’ve got time for now as my help is required to plant peas and broad beans (including putting up their hazel supports that I stripped when Jules laid the hedge) and other planting bits and pieces. We hope you all had a good weekend!

We leave you with a few more before and after pictures…

 

In this photo, look at the hedge to the right of and behind us. That is what it looked like before it was laid.

This is what it looks like now:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The orchard has also been through quite a transformation.

I planted bulbs in winter and Jules slashed brambles uncovering about 6 fruit trees on top of the 60 or so already there:

 

 

 

 

 

Then they all got a heavy pruning in February.

Jules mowed and I raked in March and now spring has arrived it is full of daffodils…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since starting this blog, the seedlings went from the safety of the living room, out into the big wide world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s all folks, goodnight

 

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Planting Season

So much has been going on that it has been hard to find time to upload a blog (especially as I have never done one before so it is all a bit of a learning experience too), but the kitchen garden taking shape and the first ever planting for us at Penybanc feels like a seminal moment and worthy of a blog entry!

So back when we first saw Penybanc, the kitchen garden was  just a field.

We realised there was no drainage when we tried to plant something and the first hole we dug just filled with water. We should have realised there was a problem by the strip of rushes growing down the middle of the field.

So the first step in turning this field into our kitchen garden was to sort out the drainage. Our neighbour put us in touch with a local farmer who came round with his digger to dig a ditch around two sides of the field. I never thought I would be so excited about a ditch and went to check on it every time it rained. This is it:

Then we measured out and marked out the beds. Later it transpired that our measuring string might have stretched as the diagonals didn’t add up… but thankfully I don’t think that the plants will be too fussy about the exact measurements of their beds.

Then Jules got his rotavator out for the first time. It took about 5 goes over the grass with the rotavator, some digging was required to extract the huge roots of the rushes and then we (with help from Martyn and Rachel) raised the fronts of the beds with recycled plastic in order to stop all our soil washing away down the hill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last push, double digging the beds and getting them ready for planting was pretty exhausting and left us all with aching muscles. Now the first round of veg is in: parsnips, first early potatoes, carrots, onions, shallots, broad beans and garlic. We’ve protected some of them from frost with a fleece, which I had never heard of before, but I love that my veg needs wrapping up until spring starts in earnest!

Now we need to wait for them to grow…. and the war on weeds and pests is declared!