HAPPY SAMHAIN !

Ever decreasing pumpkins. You can figure out the most fertile part of our garden !?!

We’ve heard of so many differing versions of where this festival actually started….. does anyone truly know?

Folklore has it that Samhain (soween) was a festival (the feast of sowen) that was held to honour loved ones that were dead. There’s the belief that on this night the barrier between this world and the other world becomes fragile allowing spirits both harmless anf harmful to pass through. The harmless spirits should be embraced and the harmful spirits repelled, hence the carving of faces into large vegetables such as turnips or pumpkins (the latter being easier to carve!)

Pumpkin soup in a pumpkin! NO, those aren’t white chocolate buttons, that’s my attempt to swirl cream! Pumpkin soup is delicious with home made cheese scones.

Our ‘FAMILLIAR’.

‘Could I borrow a witches flying machine, I’d visit you on Hallowe’en.’

HAPPY HALLOWE’EN FROM US BOTH!

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OFF GRID LIVING

LIVING WITHOUT LIGHTS.

‘What can be used and when?’ These are probably the most asked questions to us,,well, I don’t really know how to answer that to be completely honest! All I can do is explain how we made it work for us.Something so simple as having a fridge which we use sparingly. During summer when there are long days and sunshine ( well, occasionally, this is Ireland!), it is on constantly except during the night, but the swap has to be made later in the year when we use a cold locker outside, (we never have food going off thats all I can say).We also have a washing machine but this has to be run off a generater but then 2 half hour washes a week can’t be too bad. The house is wired up for 240v as this side of the house is still the caravan, and this can be one of the problems with solar power, when you need it the most for lighting, the days are short and therefore you will have less charging power, and so we have oil lanterns for our lights.

Of course these have to be regularly filled with oil but we have found that commercial diesel works just fine and is probably the cheapest thing to use. We have five lanterns and 1 gallon of diesel will last us about a month if we are careful, eg not having them all lit at the same time. We find that it costs us about 4 euro a month. Using candles and lanterns is like having a romantic dinner every night!

Other lights we use are 2  mechanic’s lead lamps for an instant bright light and these are plugged into a small secondary battery system that is independant of the main system.

By having an independant system it means that in the mid winter when we have had the main power ‘go down’ because there is just no battery charge, we still have power because our TV and satellite are both 12v. The small black 4 into 1 connecter ( car cigarette lighter) that they plug into gives an 8 hour usage time. When we go out in our jeep we take this battery with us to charge it whilst driving (utilization)

Our radio is also 12v, to run off the same system, but we plug independent speakers into it for a better sound, yes,we use alot of batteries, but they are all rechargeable and we have had the same ones for about 5 years! Even right now we have good music playing but the inverter (main power) is switched off. Of course when there is plenty of power we plug in our ‘big’ speakers ( computer speakers) that give a good bass sound!

We also have a small generater that can be used as a last resort. If this has to go on we have full power and everything gets charged up at the same time.

I check the power everyday using a volt meter.

To help us with the lighting situation we have head torches to walk around in and find things,we look like miners! These are invaluable to us. Summer time is easy but the winter can be very hard and takes thought, not as much now, but believe me, when you are first finding all this out by trial and error it is hard. It all depends on your perspectives.

Your only limitation is your imagination.

Enjoy.

MEET THE FAMILY

We just thought that it was about time we introduced you to the rest of the family at the Willows.They are all really important to the whole place.

These two are our little babies, WHISKEY AND JINGO.  Whiskey is 10 and Jingo is 9, they go everywhere with us. when we go off in our VW camper,they are in the back. If I go out in the car Whiskey is always with me ( don’t tell the police that i’m driving with whiskey ! )

This is the Whigsta with Jake ( the name Jake we got from the film AVATAR, blue and yellow !).

Say cheese ! JINGO jones is a real poser. He was found, dumped , in a shed by ‘E’s niece. He was left to die at 4 weeks old, and he is completely deaf.

Now these two reprobates are BOWIE AND FLOYD ( now u can tell a part of our music likes ! ). They really do play a big part in the Willows life, they keep the land down and all their ‘POO’ is collected and put into piles, once its broken down it goes into the veg patches. Some of it we put into a barrel of water to break down, so that you can put a watering can in to water an instant feed to veg like onions.

I wonder if DR Dolitle knows that we have his ‘ Push me pull me’?!?.

AH, now then, this should be our cat ‘BOLLO’  BUT, the feilne that he is ( er sorry Felis Domesticas, ) he refused to be part of what he considers to be a blatant invasion of privacy !!!!!

We did have another cat but unfortunately he died earlier this year, his name was ‘MAORI’ because he was ‘ all black’.

Also we had chickens, but the fox took them in the winter. we will get more in the spring.

We hope you like our family.. Enjoy.

IT’S ELECTRIFYING part two

As I said before, this is only a small system that we have, but it can be as big as you want it to be although the bigger it is the more expensive. Our photovoltic panels (PV’s) will produce 150 watts of power each into the batteries. The wind turbine will produce 350watts of charging power, so, on a sunny, windy day we get 650 watts of charging capacity, but on a still, dull day very little power will be produced hence the batteries.The more batteries you have the more power you can store (obviously), but they are quite expensive at 250 euro each (5 years ago), and all lead batteries have a life span of around 8 years. When these batteries die they all have to be replaced at the same time otherwise the older batteries would drain the new batteries life. The PV’s (which are 10 amp, 24 volt chargers each) are wired into charge controllers, so if the power is too much they will turn off to prevent the batteries from ‘cooking’.

The two charge controllers, one for the black PV and one for the blue PV.

The two batteries are wired from two 12v into one 24v. This is easy to do, just connect a wire from the positive terminal on one of them to the negative terminal on the other. The other posts are now live at 24v. Our batteries are 230 amp hour each ( a normal diesel vehicle battery is 65 ah)

The wind turbine is wired with a cut-off switch for safety,eg, if you need to take it down for maintenance. The turbine is also connected to a power ‘run-off’, so, if it is very windy and the batteries are full, this takes the excess energy.

Now comes the best bit and this part really does determine how much power can be used by you in your home.

‘ THE INVERTER’

The inverter changes the power from 24v to 240v into your house (normal house voltage in this part of the world), meaning you can use tv, fridge, lighting etc, you get the picture! Our inverter allows up to 1500 watts of power to be used at any one time, but you can get inverters as big as you want, bearing in mind the more power you use the more you will drain the batteries, hence the more power you will need to charge them back up therefore the bigger the system has to be ( you can see the cycle).

We have an on-off switch connected to the inverter so when we aren’t using any power in the house we can turn the whole system off because the inverter alone will drain power from the batteries.

Next time I would like to show you what else we have done to help us cope with low power in the winter months.

Enjoy.

P.S. Congratulations to New Zealand on winning the rugby World Cup!!

‘BASKET CASE’

A few weeks ago our old woven basket that was used for holding our peat briquettes,( and we had actually rescued from a skip!),fell apart and couldn’t take being mended for an umpteenth time! LJ (hubby) decided on the spur of the moment, he would have a go at making another. We had some willow left over from our fedge-making last week and so, without further ado and absolutely no idea or previous experience of basket weaving, the task took place…..

I was pretty shocked to see that already the base was taking shape from a small idea he had.

And within a couple of hours already it was standing up.

Looking down into the base.

He was so engrossed in his work that even the rain couldn’t stop him and I had to clear the kitchen to enable continuation!

Look at the weft-work on that!

This wasn’t easy because the willow is supposed to be soaked for a couple of weeks prior to weaving to make it supple.

Because we have such interest in willow,( hence the house name and blog site!), it’s amazing the information that you find out such as willow is the traditional material used in basket-making and is also known as ‘osier’. It seems to grow best in an area that has a high content of water, which suits our land just fine! Each year the osiers are cut as coppice shoots that grow up as permanent ‘stools’. They are then cut by hand usually during winter months. We also found out that there are three types of rod, white, buff and brown.White rods have their bark removed manually with a V shaped tool. Buff rods are boiled so that the tannin in the bark stains the rods a buff colour and then they are peeled. Brown rods have the bark left on as in the case of what we used.

Taa Daa!! Not bad as a first attempt eh?

ITS ELECTRIFYING !!

Hi its me again. The wife wanted her last post to be a bit longer than what it was but the computer played up ( computers!!). She will come back at a later date with a fuller version but I’ve been (politely) told to get on with this, so I will. When we decided to start this project, we didn’t have any preconceptions, so looked into connecting to the main grid (ESB Ireland) but found it to be too expensive, and not cost much more for a SMALL alternative system.

We found a local company who were willing to help us and luckily for us happened to be selling their own sytem as they were upgrading themselves. This system consisted of turbine, 40ft pole,wire guy cables and 2 photovoltic panels. We had to buy new batteries, I’ll explain why later. 5 holes were dug by hand- 1 for the turbine pole and 4 for the guy cables. Each hole was 3 cubic feet ( equaling 1 cubic tonne each)   so that the weight of the concrete wouldn’t allow movement in high winds.We recycled 4 broken leafsprings from our Hi-lux to use as anchor points and sunk them into concrete in 4 of the holes. In the fifth hole we sunk the A frame/towbar removed from our caravan,well, it was just a left over bit so we thought we may as well use it! This was to be a pivot point.

All the electrical wires were connected to the turbine and pulled through the hollow pole, and we connected 2 of the side guy cables so as we pulled it upright it couldn’t fall sideways (  Something I didn’t think of the first time,oops,sorry!) Now came the SCARY BIT. The guy cables were attached to the back of our Hi-lux (that now had new leaf-springs!) And I drove forward very slowly, sweat dripping off me in fear of the amount of money’s worth that could crash to the ground!  ‘E’ shouted STOP! and the pole had clicked into place,,phew,IT WAS UP! After connecting the other guy cables, it was now time to get it to produce power.

This is a photo of the main battery supply, that all the cables now come into ( from turbine and panels) All this had to be wired up with care and thought so I’m leaving it for now so I can do a full page about it because it will get technical ( in my eyes anyway!)

Enjoy.

BEES IN THE BORAGE

Well, here I am writing my first tentavive post! As you already know, when we moved onto our land 5 years ago, it was literally just fields, and very wet fields at that! What was going to grow in such conditions? Willow… perfect, but there had to be more. We wanted  herbs, so a way forward was the ‘no dig’ herb garden. This involved strimming an area of grass close to the house, removing the cuttings, laying thick wads of newspaper or cardboard, wetting them and laying the grass cuttings back over the wet paper. This creates a thick mulch that if left for just a few weeks will break down and give you the most gorgeous soil. I planted a few herbs and was astonished when I found worms already at home in the new soil! The worms come up to the surface of the soil to drag the rotting matter down … in effect I had created a wormery! We now have a decent selection of herbs of which we can use fresh during summer or, dry them in a warm place for storing for winter use. I love drying herbs in the kitchen and collecting seeds such as coriander and fennel.

Fennel

I also noticed today that there were still bees to be found in the nasturtium and whats left of the borage, not bad for October

A little fuzzy.....Or should that be buzzy?

Borage has often been planted by beekeepers as a forage crop for their hives and is also an excellent companion plant, as planting it close to tomato plants may repel whiteflies and tomato moths. As a herbal medicine, it has been suggested that Borage has a therapeutic value in treating dry itchy skin such as eczema and psoriasis. The leaves can be used as a poultice for sprains, bruises and inflammation……. but as far as I know, not bee stings!!

BUILDING A DREAM AN ALTERNATIVE WAY CONTINUED

This is only going to be a small page because all I wanted to do was finish off the last bit of the main structure building. The last post was getting too long !!.

This was the insulation , boards, and corrugated sheets going onto the caravan side and also the extention side.This tied both sides together.

Finishing touches.. Once this was done, and with the shiplap going all the way round, it now just looks like  one solid structure ( well, it is ).

You can still see the caravan side here, but it shows you how you tie the two together.

All tied up.. This is also a sneak preview of our water system ( well, part of it )!

The herb patch.. This was made by Permaculture, using paper and grass mulch..  See ..  www. arignagardner.wordpress.com  if u want to know more about it, Bridgit writes a really nice piece on Permaculture.. My wife did this part, and on that note we will now go over to my lovely wife for the next post… Enjoy.

BUILDING A DREAM AN ALTERNATIVE WAY.

” You can’t do that!”

” It’ll never work!”

” Why do you want to do that?”

These are some of the things that were said to us, well……

2 people + 1 million obstacles, 1000 doubters + 1 love + 1 huge idea = The Willows, where our dreams have become reality.

A couple of our friends ( Andy + Bridget, arignagardener.wordpress.com)  took some photos of our place and put them onto their own blog site and had some really nice comments  back about them, so we thought that we would show how it all came about…This is not about a big slap on the back, its about  an alternative way of life, living an ordinary way..( Ish )!!!

This was the start, A 35 foot caravan. Once it was in place the extention was ready to go.

Oh, theres me again making the first cut.

The first part of the base going down.. We built the floor in 5 x 7 feet sections and nailed them all together.

The main frame work going up. We sat there with graph paper over and over until we were happy with where everything should be before starting.

The top of the structure, we made this the same way as the base and put uprights in to support it all.

A view of the roof of the extention. These were 8 x 4 foot boards.

Wind proofing !

Ship lap as the outer covering.

All the floor, walls and roof with 4 inches of insulation.

So, there we go with the first part of the main structure..In later pages we will go into the water, electricity and sewage systems… Enjoy..

AUTUMN FEDGEROW

Because this is only our second posting, we were going to show you how we built The Willows, but with it being this time of year we thought we would plant a new fedge.

Thats me cutting last years willow growth ( thats a picture of my best side ). Some of the rods were 8 to 10 feet long.

There was alot !!! and the drive way is long !!!

We cut about 400 rods, and theres still more to cut.

The basic planted fedge.

By crossing the willow like this it makes it stronger and binds it together.

The finished fedge which is about 25 metres long, using about 70 rods of willow.

A few tips for anyone who wants to try this themselves,… make sure that the rods are pushed at least 9 to 12 inches into the ground, otherwise they could fall over or possibly not root. Once you’ve planted a hoop ( two rods planted 4 feet apart and woven together) your next hoop starts with a rod planted in the centre of the hoop.

HAPPY FEDGING FROM WILLOWARCHWAY !

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