TEN YEARS AFTER

Apart from ‘Ten Years After ‘ being a favourite band of ours from the ’60’s and ’70’s, it’s also coming up to our 10th anniversary of owning our land here in Ireland, and leading us to try to set up, build and live a self-sustainable lifestyle on our own.

We didn’t actually do anything with the land for a couple of years after buying it because we weren’t really sure just what we wanted to do, but after a while everything started to come together, especially once we’d bought the 40ft mobile home, placed it on the land and stayed for a 2 week holiday in it. This was 8 years ago, a lot of hard work and some mind puzzling problems to overcome. More

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

THERE’S MORE AT THE DOOR.

Hello and welcome to ‘The Willows’ and a big welcome to all our new Twitter followers.

Even though we have a very well insulated house with the floors, walls and roof all having 4 inches of insulation, there are always little problems with the wind through the side door especially when the wind blows from the east. All of the windows have insulation tape/draught excluder, so no draughts there, but the doors were difficult to sort out. Another problem was that all of our coats, boots, etc.  were hung up in the kitchen and when they got wet ( and knowing where we live, that’s often !), and were drying, it made the kitchen steam up and the floor wet meaning more heat was needed.

So, I solved this by building something so simple and easy, that has been used for exactly these reasons for hundreds of years, a porch.

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It was built onto a raised floor to stop damp, and the window was recycled from an old property.

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It was stained with a water based stain and then with linseed oil to waterproof it. The re cycled door and window are now ready for a lick of paint.

The difference it has made is amazing, no more draughts and all of our wet clothing hangs in there so no more dripping all over the kitchen floor, this has also given us more room in the kitchen and we’re not tripping up over boots !

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I decided to put this old door in so that we can fetch fuel/wood for the range or start the generator from inside the porch without getting wet, especially once the tin roof has been extended!

Obviously the porch itself has a few draughts, but once the coats etc have stopped dripping, they can come in for a nice warm and a dry but they have to go back out there. There’s a place for everything and everything in it’s place, as my Grandma used to say . And I bet yours did too !

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It would be virtually impossible to stop every draught but as long as they are only small I think they actually help with some ventilation.

So now the house needs less heating, less heating means less waste and so less of a carbon footprint, and so less money needed to be spent.

We would like to supply all of our own fuel here at ‘The Willows’, and we are trying as we have already planted lots of trees over the years,( too many to count,) and most of the willow has been woven into fedges ( I will post more about the fedges in a later blog). Each willow will produce hundreds of rods that can be mulched into briquettes for fuel. Some people say that willow isn’t good for the fire as it has a high water content, but we dried some out for a year and it burnt well, very well, but making a compact briquette makes it burn slower, but with a good heat.

So we’re off now to plant more trees that include Oak ,Beech, Birch, Alder and of course Willow for our Samhain celebration.

HAPPY SAMHAIN !

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Enjoy.

ALL HANDS ON DECK.

Hello and welcome to all our new followers ( and of course our long time followers !), and thankyou for all the nice comments you have all sent. We do hope that you all find us helpful, informative and entertaining!

At the start of this project 7 years ago, the summer weather was absolutely fantastic. It was really hot and very sunny and we felt like we were on a permanent holiday! We had a 35 foot caravan and a dream, so we started to build the extension onto the side of the caravan. We were playing Spanish music on our little CD player and having fun together, it almost felt like we were making our own telly programme, we called it ‘House Builders In The Sun !’ One time I was making the roof and 2 Red Kites were swooping overhead, we took this to be a good omen. But as ever the weather changed ( we were still having fun !) but at the end of the day this was still just grazing land and with all the rain it started to get really boggy and just down right muddy. Ok we didn’t have any carpets to mess up ( we still don’t), but it all became hard work, slipping and sliding around the areas around the house, something had to be done to make things easier. So I decided to put wooden pallets down, that I recycled from a local business ( with their permission of course)  to make a decking and walkway, and it really did work, but as always there’s another but, after awhile they started to rot and break so we kept on replacing them but these also rotted and in the end we got fed up of trying to tip toe around the place to avoid the holes and broken ankles. So once again something had to be done, hence now our proper decking and walkway.

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As you can see instead of just making a static decking, I built it all in 1 metre square sections.

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Each section can be moved or changed at any time either because of damage, or knowing us, we just want to change the pattern. Because we can…… and probably will! Why move house when you can just change how it looks?

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The last pallet being ripped up, thank goodness ! I had to use a spade,crow bar and sheer brute force !

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The sections going down.

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The walkway down the side of the house past the herb garden.

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What a view. The decking’s not bad either !

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The whole decking and walkway is now really nice to walk on without fear of slipping or breaking something ( like a pint glass !)

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And in case you were wondering what happened to all the old faithful pallets, well they will make perfect bonfire material for our Samhain  festival, seeing as we’ve invited bigmunkeyman and his mates to hold his bigmunkeyman’s bigmonster movie mashup !

I’m sure he will have a tale to tell at www. bigmunkeyman.wordpress.com

By the way I’d like to say Happy 30th Birthday to my sister TIGGER !

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 !!

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.

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!!