THE AUTUMN FEDGEROW UPDATE

Before I get started on this subject, I have to tell you what a very , very strange, weird and exciting week we’ve had here at ‘The Willows’. We have been contacted by a major, international media company, based in London, wanting to run a story about our lives, and our way of living, because we are completely off the grid, with our own alternative energy, water supply and almost all our own food ( we are still sorting out the last one !). I had a really nice, hour long telephone conversation, with a lovely lady, just talking about life at ‘The Willows’. After a few days she contacted us again and said that even though there’d been a very good response from newspapers and magazines, and even though we are both British citizens, the papers would prefer to have had  UK based people. So, oh well, we can only wait and see if the newspapers come to their senses ! But, at the end of the day, thank you so much to Hannah and the publishing company for recognising our little story and making us both feel so proud of the acknowledgement.

Anyway, onwards and upwards.

Now, the willow fedgerow is one of our constant and favourite blog stories for the simple fact that it was this subject that started us off on our blog journey, when a couple of our friends visited us and took some photos for their own blog. www.fromacountrycottage.wordpress.com  and they received a good response to it.

Willow is so easy and versatile to use, it almost makes the perfect planting material and my goodness, it grows so quickly! With every year it grows, the more rods it produces, providing ever more planting opportunities. We have literally fenced our whole land with willow, which is why when I said that we had planted lots of trees, it really is quite impossible to count but it must be getting towards 1000, possibly more, but hey, who’s counting?

The only problem with willow is that Bowie and  Floyd, our donkeys, love to eat it, so in many areas we have had to put an exclusion zone with a wire fence as well.

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Wrapping the rods in this way holds them in place.

Willow really is so easy to use, you literally just push it into the ground, walk away and watch it grow. I would say that we have had around a 95% success rate with many sizes from 2 feet in length, pushed in to ground about 9 inches, to 12 feet that we wove into  archways ( hence our name!)

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Fallen arches. The wind will always catch anything that’s top heavy. This archway is about 6 years old and our willowarchway picture.

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This is it after a straighten up and a haircut !

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Weaving not only looks pleasing but strengthens the structure.

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This fedge is around 3 years old.020

This 100 metre long fedgerow is  6 years old and was the first fedge to be planted on our land. It goes from the house all the way down the driveway to the lane. This willow was originally sourced from the roadside and all other fedgerows on our land have been created from this  We have plans to lay another fedge on the other side of the driveway and in time we’ll join the two together to form a tunnel.

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Willow fedgeing being used to create a pathway through the garden.

Happy fedgeing, any questions and you know where we are.

Enjoy

BLOCKHEADS

Now, this post was supposed to go out with yesterdays blog, but as with computers, it said NO halfway through and so we decided to have another go today. Computers eh? Last year one of our mutual bloggers www.earthandhearth.wordpress.com  put out a post where she had bought a Paper Log Briquette Maker. We were quite intriqued by this concept and so asked her where to buy one. Of course you can get these on line but last week we were wandering around our local thrift store and it was like a double take…. there it was waving at us, buy me ! Anyway, once home we started to rip the newspapers apart, soak them thoroughly and proceed to make briquettes. OH, I do like new gadgets !

The paper soaking.

Go on, give it a good squeeze.

Ta Da !

The start of our self sustainable fuel. They may not be perfect yet but we are adapting our technique, maybe shredding the paper so that it’s alot finer. We are also considering getting a shredder (run from our sustainable energy) so that we can use shredded willow leaves and bark from our willow wood which is being increased seasonally.

By the end of the day I had made about 40 logs, and it wasn’t a very long day at that. They are stacked up in the workshop to dry thoroughly, although a few were placed near to the range to dry quickly so that we could try them out and see if they were successful. They were.

We hope you all have a very Happy Samhain from ‘The Willows’.

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.

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!!

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.