Sunday, 9 September 2012

Making a home out of Earthbags

From :
The earthbag dome, while awesome, has been somewhat of a side-project since the first big gush of effort dedicated to its bag-raising (if that is a term) in Feb 2011. But now it’s time to get it done.

Partly because done is the engine of more, and partly because we want Rose to have a cosy haven after a big day of cookery. Nearly there now….

There’s a bit of an in-joke going around the farm about the earthbag dome… it’s been re-christened the effort dome. While we all appreciate that earthbag building can be an awesome building technique for earthquake and tsunami-prone areas, and is definitely fabulous insofar that it can be done with only some bags, barbed wire, local earth and a whole lot of human energy, the total human effort involved is quite immense.

On the upside for the earthbag dome, it will definitely outlast us all. When the tinyhouse has crumbled in generations to come, the earthbag dome will still be sitting, hobbit-like in the landscape, providing solidity, warmth and cosiness to whoever cares to start a fire in the domelet.

I've always been interested in alternative construction techniques. Earthbag building techniques have been used for a number of years both as emergency building and in wars. The downside is that they do require a lot of effort to make. On the other hand they are inexpensive to make and beautiful.

There is a post elsewhere on the internet where someone tried to demolish one of these buildings, and despite removing almost the entire bottom layer of bags it still remained standing. Quite amazing.

The article has a lot of pictures...they made a beautiful building IMHO.

Problems with Sheering Sheep

From :
Shearing Sheep

The whether-or-not depended on the weather and as we’d ‘enjoyed’ le temps pourri (rotten weather) since some super days back in March, I thought the sheep would be glad to hold onto their outdoor coats. Their summer-wear, like our own, was left safely in a suitcase in the attic.

The other aspect of my apprehension is the risk of cutting the sheep. One must avoid the temptation to push wool away, which can tent the skin leaving it vulnerable to the next ‘blow’ of the shears but rather pull the skin towards oneself, so flattening it out.

I’m better once I get started but the bad weather played to my procrastination. I’ve checked my notes and I sheared in May (2009) then early June (2010) then mid to late June last year and this year is was mid July when la météo confidently announced a string of hot days coming up.

There’s another issue, which is that of flystrike, where a (certain type of fly) lays it’s eggs on a sheep, whose maggots then start burrowing into the poor beast.

All done in a day and not a single nick, I think I might just be getting the hang of this.

We have had an almighty time sheering our own flock. It spend a good four months raining on and off, and it is bad for the sheep to sheer them if they are wet. You can cut the sheep and get fly strike. The other worry is that the rain actually breaks down some of the wool coat which produces a smell that flies are attracted to.

Unfortunately that meant we got one case of fly strike this year - luckily easily cured.

A second problem we have with sheering is that Hebrideans are notoriously canny sheep. A Breed that is very hardy but also sensitive if anything out of the usual is happening. They go into the pen like good sheep every day except when the sheering is done.

It is very interesting to read about someone else sheering their flock. We have a friend that comes round every year to do it - maybe not the cheapest way, but he can do it in a few minutes of effortless work, whereas we don't have enough practice.

A couple start up their own smallholding

From :

Nathan Levy is a tall sun-cured older man, teaching a small group the basics of permaculture. Right now, they are learning how to make dirt.
“You need something green, something brown, and some manure,” Levy says. “Basically you need nitrogen, carbon, and organisms.”
Making soil is better than buying soil, Levy explains. Purchased soil can be sterilized, devoid of any pathogens, including the good ones.
“With good soil, you’ll get a great vine and leaves but no sweet potato,” Levy says. “You can eat those leaves. People don’t realize there are greens that grow in Florida in the summertime.”
The greens that grow in Florida’s heat and sandy soil may not be like the romaine lettuce you are used to.
...“This is an entire community of bugs,” Levy says. On one side a pile of old eggshells and debris is a feast for all matter of life inside. What comes out the other end is some of the richest soil around. Thin red worms squirm through deep brown and black dirt.
Levy sits everyone down in the shade and hands out water.
“So what are everyone’s plans? Where are you going to grow?”
“We never got into this to make money,” Tina says. “We just realized that most people who grow for themselves always grow too much.”
“We’ve never been healthier,” Tina says. “We really want others to become self-sustaining, especially with the rising costs of food.”
“The stuff they sell at the grocery stories is terrible,” Nathan says. “I said to myself, I’ve gotta grow some vegetables.”
It's thrilling to hear about people making a living out of gardening and growing crops. Levy teaches how to compost, how to grow and harvest produce, and has set up a green box scheme where local smallholders can sell their produce.

Commeth the Man, Commeth the winter.

This year had very strange and challenging weather. First, until March there was a drought where we had very low rainfall all winter and hose pipe bans. Of course, from the day the hose pipe bans were announced we had continuous rain until the water company removed them. It was certainly one of the wettest droughts on record!
The consequences of this period of rain have been felt in our apple crop. We have around a dozen old apple trees that were originally put in long before we came to our home... and they haven’t shown the slightest hint of an apple this year! Normally it’s a case of not even being able to harvest them all – we give a lot of them to the sheep every year. This year nada. For the first time since we moved into this house we have had to buy in apples for crumble! The Shame!
One good result of the rains is that unlike last year I have not been stung by a horde of evil bees while doing the scything. On the other hand the rain seems to have encouraged the evil red ants to make dozens of nests in the long grass. Swish! Goeth the scythe. Attack! Goeth the ants. Let me tell you now ants in your pants is NOT FUNNY.
I seem to be very sensitive to them. My skin goes really red and scratchy.
Tomatoes... blight.
Runner Beans have done well.
Sweatcorn... we were lucky. The rain stopped at just the right time so this year our sweatcorn crop is better than ever. Delicious, too!
Sorry about the lack of updates on the blog. I will try to write more often, but my original plans went haywire due to medical problems which meant that something had to go... and this blog was it! But maybe I will post more often now things have settled down.
Hint for the day: If you are scything in a tall meadow, make sure that you wear long trousers, and tuck them into your socks for maximum protection. You don’t want ants in your pants! Oh, no sir.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Up the garden Path - Autumn Mists – Things we are doing in the garden today

Hello guys, I must admit I have been remiss about posting to the site. The reason for this was drains. Or more properly, sewage drains. They didn’t work. We had to dig them, and then during this period of hard graft, lightning hit and our Internet died.

Well, now the internet has resumed life.

What has been happening in the garden recently? Well, we have been picking up tomatoes and other vegetables. They are delicious. Unfortunately, we are coming to the harvesting section of the year. During the hiatus we managed to pick millions of currents – red and black – blackberries, and raspberries.

Now, as the first mist has come this morning it almost seems as if we are at the end of they year.
We are redesigning the vegetable portion of our garden. For some years this has been a little bit of a hodgepodge. With small, windy grass paths, and beds slightly too large to weed properly. So, work is being carried out. The first stage is to dig, dig as though life depends on it. At the moment the ground is very hard. But we are expecting it to soften this week, as rain is forecast.

Once the ground is dug, we will have a near allotment sized plot.

At that stage, we will make paths, and work out some crop rotation for it. This has always been our weak spot. We like a relatively small selection of vegetables, and because of this we have not always done crop rotation correctly. Not according to the book, anyway.

This will probably continue. At least for some time. But, we are eating more greens – kale, spinach, and lettuce this year – and this offers some hope for better rotation.

That is one aspect of our gardening. The other aspect is making use of the orchard – getting in apples, stewing them, and freezing them. We hope that this will allow us to eat our own produce for the next year. We are missing sloe’s, but have picked a huge amount of pears that will ripen slowly over the next few weeks.
I think that summarizes this period of the year – still harvesting the last of the summer vegetables, clearing beds, weeding, and not enough time.

One thing you really do notice, I think, is the way that the sunlight is drawing in. We are losing around five minutes a day at the moment. So, I hope you understand why this blog will be short and sweet.
Keep well.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Up the Garden Path - Looking at apple bloom

Today    was the first day I noticed apple bloom in the garden. Yes, our apple tree seems to be coming into flower. It seems a lot earlier than normal, to be honest with you. And the crab apple hasn’t had flowers yet, even though it has had leaves for a while. But still the pinkish white blossom is delightful. It sets my mind to the future. We don’t really do what the books say to our apple tree.

Now, for the best possible crop you are supposed to think the apples, and also prune them in particular ways.
We inherited out current trees in a state of some neglect, since the previous owner of the orchard kept horses which ate their bark. We replaced the horses with Hebridean sheep, which taste better but also like a bit of apple tree bark. The resulting mess means it is not really worth our time to prune the apple trees or, for that matter, to thin them out. We find the Hebridean sheep manage to thin anything out within thinning distance of the ground.

That said, even though we don’t do anything to the trees, the sheer quantity of apple trees means we manage to get a large enough crop for our purposes – which are apple juice and apple and blackberry crumble during the autumn and winter months.

One thing I haven’t noticed so far is the elderflowers coming out. They may do soon... but not quite yet. Every year I plan to make some elderflower cordial, I even have a decent recipe, but that never quite happens. In amongst weeding, cutting the grass, and sowing plants I never seem to have quite got the time to do what I want.

But I hope that will change in time.

Now, one thing I think every gardener should have at this time of year is... yes... sting cream! We have a supply of insect sting cream (brand not mentioned) and you should have too... preferably in a standard place. Because that way, when the inevitable wasp sting occurs, you are protected. When you are rattling in flower beds it is inevitable sooner or later you will get stung, or ant attacked.

So, there we go... the health warning. 

Grass cutting duty comes again, inevitable as spring gets older. But, amongst all of that, make sure you take some time to rest and recuperate in the garden.  I guess I’ll speak to you again ;)

Monday, 4 April 2011

Seed bed Preparation – for sowing outdoors

Developing a proper seed bed can be quite physical work. You need to dig the bed thoroughly in the winter. Probably double digging is best, but the reality is that often only single dig. This may include an application of lime, or manure, if at the appropriate stage of your crop rotation. Either way, you leave the bed to break down over winter, and come to it again in the following spring when the ground has dried out. You shouldn’t work on really sodden ground since it will damage the soil by making it too compact.

You will need to dig the bed over, removing any perennial weeds, and once you have dug it over you need to do something that will make you look like a bit of an idiot.

You need to get your fork, and whack the surface of the earth like a madman. Some people try to level it out with a rake, but a rake is really for getting the stones up on the top of the soil. Bashing the soil with a fork will make it nice and level, breaking any clumps up.

The resulting soil will be a perfect seed bed.

In order to  get the best results when sowing, I generally suggest making a furrow with the handle of a hoe, and then sowing the seeds. Rather than pushing the soil back onto the seedlings, I think using compost is a better idea. Because the compost looks different to soil, you get a firm mark of where you have sown. This makes weeding a doddle.

The problem with sowing seeds outdoors is that even if you have a perfect seedbed, there will probably be seeds that are in the soil, so unless you mark the rows properly you won’t know which of the seedling are weeds, and which are plants. With a compost marker, you will be able to use your hand hoe to decapitate the weeds leaves before the plants have a chance to establish. This helps you maintain the perfect seed bed with much less effort.

On top of that, one thing you always need to do is mark the variety and time of planting on a label. While there are labels for pots, these can become lost. There are better options in garden centers, or you can cut up a plank from a garden center into small sticks. Write on the sticks with a permanent market, and just paint over the writing every year. 

One final thing... it is often better to water the soil before you sow rather than after. You don’t want to wash any of your seeds away.

This is coming up to the perfect time of year to sow plants outside... we haven’t had a frost here for weeks, and we don’t expect any more. So have fun J