IT’S A SELF PRESERVATION SOCIETY

Whilst sitting here on a Sunday afternoon listening to ‘The Kinks’,I think it puts things onto perspective on living the alternative lifestyle. It’s also strange that  a certain time of year can bring a flurry of activity. As we grow most of our food and all of a sudden you have a glut of produce, don’t have a freezer, so what are you to do with it all ? PRESERVE it !

Over the past few weeks I think that we have made a massive leap forward with our preserving and if we want to continue eating over the winter months then we have to preserve our food.

Last year we preserved our cherry tomatoes and they were very successful ( we actually opened one of our last jars yesterday and they were perfect for pizza topping) and so decided to preserve more this season, but as there were so many green toms this year ( due to a poor summer !) E found a recipe for ‘Green Tomato Chutney’ and when I walked into the kitchen (after working on ‘Bertie’ our VW campervan) all I could smell was a sweet and sour sauce. We’ve now decided to use all of our chutney as a sauce for chinese stir frys ( it tastes just the same!) and doesn’t have all of the chemicals used in commercial preserving.

And so now here are the 2 recipes to preserve a glut of cherry tomatoes. Enjoy.

First prick the cherry tomatoes with a cocktail stick and place a layer in a clean jar, sprinkle a little salt and sugar, some sliced garlic ( and a few basil leaves if desired). Layer some more tomatoes, salt etc until you have filled the jar and place the jar onto a cardboard lined baking tray, placing the jar lid on top of the jar but don’t screw the lid shut.

Place the jar(s) into a cool oven for about an hour ( our Stanley range ) or until liquid is bubbling out of the tomatoes. When the liquid has almost covered the tomatoes, remove the jars from the oven and immediately screw the lids closed and leave to cool. Store in a cool, dark place.

GREEN TOMATO CHUTNEY

Makes 7-8 230 ml/8 fl oz jars

3  1/4 lb green tomatoes

1lb 2oz onions

1/2 tsp salt

3 1/2 oz  dried dates (we didn’t bother )

18 fl oz vinegar

10 1/2 oz sugar

1 tblsp mustard

1/2 tblsp curry powder

1/2 tblsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tblsp cumin

1/2 tblsp ground ginger

Paprika

Wash tomatoes,peel the onoin and roughly chop both. Salt them and leave to stand overnight.

The next day, drain off the liquid, stone and finally chop the dates. Mix them with the vinegar, sugar and tomato and onoin mixture, and bring to the boil.

Simmer, without a lid for an hour, stirring occasionally. Add the mustard and spices after 45 mins. Boil over a high heat for 5 mins to thicken. Immediately fill the jars with the mixture, seal tightly and stand upside down for 5 mins. Store in a cool, dark place.

ONE YEAR ON

Hello everyone, yes, this is our one year blog and we can’t really believe it ourselves !

We really hope that you’ve found all of the information helpful and maybe slightly entertaining. As we’ve said before, all we wanted to do was to show that it’s possible to build your own wooden house and live a sustainable life, growing your own food, preserving that food for the winter months and most importantly make your own wine from your garden produce. It’s just about the whole package of ‘The Willows’.

For us it always has to be about moving on. One problem that I found myself was that once the kitchen was completed, I had nowhere to make and repair things, so I had to do it all outside and this is never easy because of all the rain. It was also very difficult if I had to fix the jeep on the driveway in the rain ( well I never actually fixed the jeep in the kitchen anyway!), so the best thing to do was to build a workshop/garage. This would also give me a place to work and start making my own kilowatt turbine over the winter months.

Once I’d hired a digger for the week to put in the foundation stone it was time to start building. The base measures 18′ wide,24′ long.

Frame up, all levelled and the panels going on.

This is the concrete base in the middle to bear the weight of vehicles ( all mixed in a wheelbarrow by hand !) The windows on the left came from a house down the lane that was being renovated. We rescued 5 windows in all, as they would’ve just been smashed up and burnt ! Why? They are perfect windows.

I decided to alternate corrugated iron sheets with clear-plex on the roof as this will give as much natural light as possible, because we don’t have electricity to burn !

Well, what do you expect? It may be raining but this is ‘The Willows’, let’s have a barbi.

The finished product ! These doors were also salvaged from the same house down the lane. There are 4 doors, joined in pairs to fold back, and above the doors, 2 boards are on hinges to fold inwards to give an entrance of nine feet. The doors will be painted a nice dark green soon.

I would like to take this opportunity and give  congratulations to the retirement of my work boots. They have been loyal, hardworking and always turned up for work! I’d like to wish them all the best in their future hobby of horticulture, as they are going to become geranium pots.( Recycling !)

Enjoy.

MMM….IT’S ALL A BIT MINTY.

Well, here we go again, over the past few weeks we have been building more things,busy planting more winter/spring veg, and gathering herbs and veg. But, first things first, Mint is fantastic as it grows so well, especially as it is so wet over here and one of the things is, that it makes LOTS OF WINE!!! So, we thought we would share with you some of our collective knowledge of this great herb.

Part of the mint patch.

We use our Stanley range on a low heat to dry the herbs slowly. A range isn’t just for winter it’s for life !

A small grater is used to grind the well dried herbs, we then use this for tea throughout the winter, as well as Fennel, Chamomile,and Lemon Balm, all of which are grown in the garden.

This is the start of our mint wine. This had been placed into boiling water and left for 24 hours to infuse, but here’s the recipe so you can make it yourselves if you want to. It’s from a book from 1980 ( yes, my grandad gave it to me), so some of the quantities may seem strange.

MINT WINE

1  1/2 pints of mint leaves ( about 5 oz) lightly bruised

1/2 pint of strong tea

3  1/2lb sugar

2 lemons

Yeast nutrient

Yeast ( 3/4 oz or 1 level teaspoon of granulated ) or forget that and throw loads in !

Water to one gallon

METHOD

Place the mint leaves and sugar in a fermentation bin and pour boiling water over them, stir well, put on the lid and leave to infuse for 24 hours. Then add the lemon juice, yeast, yeast nutrient and tea ( I warm the mixture up slightly to activate the yeast). Leave this for another 48 hours and strain into a one gallon jar and make up to one gallon if necessary. Put the bung and trap in and keep it warm and watch it blub away for about 2-3 weeks. It won’t be ready for about 6 months and over time the sediment will settle and clear. Rack it into bottles and then leave it again, sitting there begging you to just drink it !!

Another wine we make is Dandelion wine.

The dandelion heads were gathered on a sunny day whilst they were fully open.

DANDELION WINE

2 quarts dandelion heads ( 1lb)

2 1/2 lb sugar

4 oranges

Water to one gallon

Yeast and nutrient

Pour boling water over the flowers and leave for 2 days. Boil the mixture for 10 mins with the orange peel and strain onto the sugar. When cool add the fruit juice, yeast and nutrient, cover and leave in a warm place for 4 days. Pour into fermenting jars and fit trap. Leave to clear.

The mint wine with a temperature gage. As you can see one of the demi-johns is a plastic bottle ( we ran out of glass ones !) but we find that it works just as well, at the end of the day it’s just a container.

The dandelion wine is already starting to settle and will be ready for racking off soon. We have 3 gallons (18 bottles) all fermenting like a good-en and about 20 bottles from last year that are maturing nicely, so, party at ‘The Willows ‘!!!!

Bring on the Blackberries !! ( woo-hoo).

Hope you enjoy, we certainly will !

GUESS WHO’S BACK…… BACK AGAIN !

Yes, after a break we’re back !!!!

One of the reasons we were away was simply that we had caught up with real time. As we’ve said before, we started this project coming up to 6 years ago so what you were reading was an accumulation of the past 5 years to show you that it’s possible to build an eco friendly living environment and still live a relatively normal life. Once this information was out we couldn’t see the point of just talking for the sake of it. We like to be informative not boring.

Anyway,the time has come and we have some new projects on the go and on the way.

First things first, we had a disaster the other week with our wind power (all sorted out now though !). It started over Christmas when the winds were so high that it broke the wind turbine. Well, the turbine has a safety mechanism that locks the blades open so that the wind blows straight through  to stop the dynamo burning out. And like this it stayed until a few weeks ago because I was too scared to bring it down ( it’s a big bloody thing and very heavy). So, I plucked up the courage, got the solar panels out of the way, the jeep into position, bull wire between the guy wires and jeep and lowered it down, no problem.

I put the blades back into position, gave the turbine a service and started to pull it back up by reversing the jeep. Half way up and SNAP !!!

The bull wire snapped and down the turbine came smashing into the ground. One of the blades had broken onto 3 pieces. My heart sank and E said my face was the same as an upset Stewie Griffin from Family Guy. This then turned into a full blown toddler temper tantrum. I had some very heavy words to say to the blinking thing and they were more colourful than a Jackson Pollock painting and just as big !

Then the despair set in, that’s half of our power down. But, after sitting for a few minutes stroking our dogs, I thought ‘Well. it’s not worked since Christmas anyway and we always had enough power with just the solar panels’.

One of the strange things though is that I never really thought the turbine gave out enough power, so I thought ‘Well, let’s see what I can do?’ So, I set about looking in my new shed ( you’ll see this in another blog ) and found some bits. I put lots of super glue on all of the different broken parts and hoped for the best, what else could I do ? To my surprise the glue worked and just to make sure I screwed some small brackets between all of the broken parts to add strength whilst hoping it wasn’t going to throw the balance out. Only one way to find out !

I then decided that the jeep wasn’t big enough to pull the weight and length back up ( we used to have a Hi-Lux before), so I decided to reduce the length of the pole from 40 feet to 20 feet. I also thought that the electrical wiring I’d put in was too thick so I replaced this with thinner wire.

This time it pulled up easily and locked into position and it was back up !!!!

It immediately started spinning again and the power output is now alot better. We had high winds the other day and night and the repaired blade is working fine. I think that the thickness and the distance was creating too much resistance. DC power does not travel well which is why AC took over as it doesn’t lose power over a great distance.

Unfortunately there are no photos of the broken blade as I was too traumatised to contemplate that. I thought that I would probably break the camara as well ( through petulance!)

Even though this happened, it  just goes to show that some days things just break !!! It all depends on how you handle it because when you live like this you are, and have to be, the master of your own destiny.

When you have  sights and views like these on your own land, doesn’t it make it all worthwhile ?

Enjoy.

EVERYBODY HAS TO GO SOMEWHERE !

Well, once again we’re back, a little late this week because it was my birthday on Sunday!! I’ve recovered now so the rest of the livingroom floor has gone down and the other two LED lights are now illuminated, so not a bad week really. Also what a lovely HOT shower I’ve just had (we will go into the hot water system soon) so we can stay in the same room if you know what I mean! Obviously,as well as getting water to the cabin, it’s first main use was the toilet, we all have to go somewhere! Because of where and how we live we couldn’t just go on the mains supply, we didn’t want to anyway, that would just defeat the object of being off the grid and self sustainable.Anyway, somewhere along the way we heard about the reed/willow bed system where the water flushed from your toilet goes into tanks where it starts to break down immediately. This broken down sewerage then flows into a series of filtration ponds that have reeds and willows planted in and around them, and these in turn draw up the water for themselves and are also fertilised.

These are 250 litre barrels, each one connected to the other, and as each one fills it drains into the next. By the third barrel, sewerage is well broken down so just liquid then flows into the series of ponds. Because of the willow and reeds, as it flows from one pond to the next, it’s clean water by the last pond with good healthy trees as well! We have had frog spawn in our last pond! Now, isn’t that better than it all being pumped out to sea?

There is one major rule with this system…NO BLEACH !! Bleach kills everything,good or bad. If you put bleach down your toilet, the bacterial enzymes that break down the sewerage will be killed and so the sewerage will sit there in the tank and rot, causing the smell that everyone associates with septic tanks. Ours does not smell at all even in hot weather because it all breaks down naturally. One thing we do use for cleaning the toilet would be Steradent tablets as these have Sodium Bicarbonate in them, a natural cleaner! If they’re good enough for your dentures then they’re good enough for the toilet!!(Yes we do still have our own teeth!)

Another rule to remember with this system is no other household water (eg, Bath, Washing Machine, Kitchen sink, etc) should go into the tanks for two simple reasons. Firstly, it will contain chemicals of some sort that will affect the breakdown, and secondly, if too much water goes into the tanks then the whole system can get flushed through not allowing time for the natural breakdown.

These are some of the willows planted at the last pond. There are about 60 in total and more next to the other ponds.

Just because we live alternatively doesn’t mean we cant have a ‘normal’ bathroom.

Enjoy.

We would like to give a big ‘Willows’ thankyou to CeliaG at   Thekitchensgarden.wordpress.com  for the surprise award! We will treasure the acknowledgement !!

WATER,WATER EVERYWHERE.

AND IT’S ALL SPRING TO DRINK!

When we first moved here,as I’ve said before,( so if I’m repeating myself),we had nothing, not even a toilet because we had no water, so as you can imagine that was the main and first priority.The first system was very easy to set up but not really efficient enough,but at least we had running water,therefore a toilet, sink and bath.

It was just water off the roof into the guttering and flowed into a 1000 litre tank. Because this is only a single storey cabin, there was no pressure so we couldn’t use the shower or kitchen sink taps, but at least we had water, thats all we could keep saying to each other. Because of the electricity system it would have been too draining on the power to run a pump at 600 watts of power and so we had to put up with what we had.It worked well enough but soon the water started to turn ‘green’ from all the crap off the roof washing into the tank, so I had to keep cleaning out the tank and it took ages for it to fill back up!

This wasn’t going to work,and so I went for a walk around the land to have a think (as you do), and I heard water running. On closer inspection I found that we had a free flowing natural spring. I found a wide part in the stream that it caused,so I dug wider and lined it with some polythene that was left over from the polytunnels.(Recycling again!)

All dug out and filling up nicely with natural spring water.

From this point the water is piped down the hill using garden hospipes and plumbed into the stacked water tanks.

You should have seen E and myself getting all of these on top of each other,it was scary! Now we have full water pressure into the cabin so we can have decent showers,all under ‘Boyle’s Law’ that pressure is created by height and not volume.

Enjoy.

WHAT A LOAD OF OLD RUBBISH!

RECYCLE,RE-USE AND UTILISE.

No-one says that it has to be thrown away. Nothing is set in stone that this is the only way to do it. All of my life I have renovated things, cars, motorbikes and even an old colonial house in New Zealand. You can see the true beauty of the fact that ‘it’ whatever ‘it’ may be, does not have to decay or be thrown away.Everything has a lot longer life than advertising leads us to believe, and to reuse and utilise something in a different way to the way it was first intended is something I love.Not only does this save you money, it saves waste and more ‘stuff’ doesn’t have to be produced to replace something that didn’t need replacing in the first place! Here at ‘The Willows’ we have gardening tools that my Grandad gave to us that date back to 1960’s and there’s NOTHING WRONG with them! We have books about smallholdings from the ’70’s and these are very useful.

When we first moved to Ireland, we had just returned from N.Z. had a 1972 VW campervan (which we lived in for a while) and very little money. When we rented a house it was empty of furniture,,,hmm, no money,no furniture,what to do? I got a days work clearing an outhouse of ‘rubbish’ to be put in a skip. We ended up furnishing our house with this ‘rubbish’ that was to be just thrown away! There was absolutely nothing wrong with any of it! We used large cardboard boxes with throw sheets over for side tables to put your pint glass,,sorry, cup of tea on. Re-using and utilisation is great and gives us a good feeling.

An old glass light shade, I actually used  it for an ash tray!

‘E’ got the glass paints out and rejuvenated it. This is now in our living room with two L.E.D. lights inside as one of our main lights and is plugged into a twelve volt battery.It gives a lovely ‘jewelled’ effect!

These ‘beams’ are actually fence rails that were screwed into the ceiling to give the effect, (utilisation?!)

Wooden panelling in the kitchen. Each panel was cut to size from one 8’x4′ sheet of board. The dado rail is again a fence rail, and the skirting board was left over ‘shiplap’. All alot cheaper than manufactured panelling.

There are so many things that we have recycled, re-used and utilised to create our place.What great fun it is to do so.

Enjoy.

A VERY DIFFERENT JOURNEY

After a week we are back on the site. We’ve been working hard on the house and like we said before ‘The Willows’ is a continuous project. When we started with just the caravan, we had nothing here, no water,no power, no toilet, no heating, but we moved in anyway. Yes, I know we are mad, but we found that by doing it this way things got done because they had to be done, simple as that! When we found a problem we had to find a solution, it wasn’t like we could just shut the door and walk away at night, we had to live it. This is why we started this site to show people that a self-sustaining eco house could be built without spending hundreds of thousands of pounds, we did ours for just a few thousand over time. But please believe us, the house has been comfortable for about 4 and a half years(we started about 5 years ago). We did have a time of being REALLY cold, but now we have got to the stage of a few creature comforts.I know it probably sounds silly, but over the past week we have sorted out a proper living room as before it was just the original caravan furnishings, you know the sort of thing. Other things had to be sorted first, obviously the kitchen, bathroom, and garden for our vegetables. Well, this is now our living room and this is still the original caravan side.

Laying the new floor.

At last, a proper living room.

With the way our eco house( buzz word!) is, we soon worked out that we really didn’t have to go without anything, But we did have to re-think the way it is used. As with the electricity system, IT’S ONLY SMALL, but it didn’t cost too much, which is why we have a few different ways of utilizing it. Now, if people want to spend fifty grand, hey, It’s up to them, but we didn’t have that kind of money and even if we had, it would have been a waste of our needs…we are never without power anyway!

No need for ‘Grand Designs’, just ‘Grand Ideas!’

Enjoy.

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.

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!!

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