Category Archives: Biochar

Spring 2020

Welcome to another sporadically posted newsletter! We hope that the stories here help to entertain you during these strange times…

In this Newsletter…

Pentiddy General Update

Lots has happened since our last offering, way too much to fit in this newsletter so we have tried to pick a few items that may interest you.

In the whole weird Covid-19 and lock down we have faired pretty well all in all. With our Community of 9 folk we have kept busy and buoyant most of the time, though we have all individually found the process challenging in different ways.

We decided to take a week ‘off’ (if there is such a thing) and just enjoy a little more space- but it seemed the sheep had other ideas and chose that week to have their lambs! Out of the 9 Ewes we think two are not pregnant so 7 have lambed and we have 4 ram lambs and 7 ewe lambs! They all run around in a riotous little group- escape the hurdle enclosure and generally cause havoc- ADORABLE!

Lots of projects still on the go: bread oven, cladding the barn, mycorrhizal inoculation of biochar, root cellar and larder, reed bed, water system re-jig, permaculture designs, intentional quantum manifestations… the list goes on and is all very exciting. Just a few of these things are covered below.

This newsletter is changing format slightly to include less rambling and more photos.

Fridge Fun – Anthony

One of the ongoing issues living off grid, and particularly highlighted by last summer, was the need for some means of cooling food.

We do not consume huge amounts of dairy but cheese and milk amongst other perishables were going off very quickly with either our ambient fridge (embedded in the wall of the house) or the slightly assisted cool box which never quite worked properly and was noisy…

One of the many visitors here last year lived in a van and they mentioned the idea of using a small counter top freezer as a fridge and explained how they had achieved this.The principle is fairly easy- disconnect the existing thermocouple and replace it with a circuit that switches the compressor based on a temperature sensor- like the one I bought from e-bay for under a fiver (here).I kept my eye out locally and a counter top-freezer came up on Gumtree- so I bought it for £30 and proceeded to take bits of it apart.

When I took out the thermocouple it left a convenient hole to post the new sensor through.

The downside of this set up is that the freezer still has to run from ‘mains’, or in our case the inverter, which is less efficient than straight from the low voltage system. However in the summer when the fridge is really needed is when we have plenty of power so a little drain from the inverter is absorbed easily.

The compressor on the freezer is really quiet, and because it is designed as a freezer and not a fridge the insulation is better. This means it stays cooler for longer and so the compressor runs less often.

We have been enjoying drinking cool drinks, being able to keep pastry for more than a couple of days and all of the wonders such a new-fangled device offers! A fairly simple, quiet, low cost solution – at last!

Water – Evan

So the theme of my post is the contrast of the seasons. For me arriving in January meant that I was welcomed by pretty much 2 months of rain – which obviously has its drawbacks. Recent climes have certainly made life easier; we almost suddenly went from non-stop rain too non-stop sunshine! This certainly lightened the load but was also not without its drawbacks – from flood too drought! Last week we reassessed the water management systems for the site, recognising that these weather patterns (extremes) are quite likely to continue, and possibly worsen, as the years pass. Water resilience is key to everything here and as an engineer I have loved learning about the systems in place and also thinking about ways in which they can be improved. These themes, along with reading the inspiring, Viktor Schauberger, has led me to think further about wider water management policy. The concept of regenerative agriculture/agroforestry, something which is practiced here, and the benefits that has on the water cycle has been an interesting revelation.

Project Pentiddy South West Corner – Lily

After finishing our Permaculture Design Course a few weeks ago, Evan and myself have been busy implementing our design ideas – theoretically we should wait and observe a little longer, however, as we’re only here for a few more moths we’d like to see some of our plans come to fruition!

Also, one of our key functions is food production which needs to get going! Major elements of this are the hugel kultur, herb spiral and the ‘cosmic egg’ veg patch, the latter inspired by Viktor Schauberger. Below are pictures of the processes so far.

We have incorporated Holmgren’s 14 major principles into our design, and in line with our analysis work, mainly SWOC (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, challenges) we have developed our ideas more fully.

In particular our function ‘Inspiration’ includes the element of a yoga platform which surprisingly meets most of the principles.

An element vital to the design is water storage – a limiting factor identified in our client interview and introduced by Evan in his blog on the stark contrasts in water presented by the changing seasons. Water storage is a unifying element between Pentiddy SW Corner and the rest of the site, this is down to the fact that currently water capture and storage for SW Corner is limited to that from the barn roof, which also feeds the main water system {at times of shortage}.

The final function is biochar production; this has since been a combined effort with others at Pentiddy and so, as well as requirements for suitable storage this has meant that the biochar operations have shifted back to the main site. This is an example of the ‘Adapt and respond to change’ principle. More information will be going up shortly on the biochar operations.

Plants, Activities, Herbs and Juices – Ele

Lockdown as a community of 9 (That’s Me, Anthony, Adeon, Elowen, Ben (Elowen’s fiance), Evan, Lily, Alex and Klaudia) has not felt in the slightest like isolation. Not a day goes by when we don’t give thanks for living in community and for having access to moorland and woodland right on our doorstep.

In recognition of our privilege we decided to try to do our bit to support the village populace. So we sowed lots of extra seeds in the hopes that people in the village might feel inspired to try their hand at vegetable growing. We had a big plant give-away last weekend with around 50 people coming along to take plants for their gardens – many of whom were first-timers who were very excited and a tiny bit scared! Of course these acts are never purely altruistic. Our hope is that we might finally light the spark that leads to people recognising the need to move swiftly towards a state of greater local resilience which is our aim with everything that we do here.

I’ve also been posting up weekly activities in the Community Woodland to encourage people of all ages to connect with their woodland in new ways and to see it with new eyes whilst out on their daily permitted exercise.

Back at the ranch, Alex (our herb-loving intern) has been leading us through ‘herb-time’ every Monday afternoon. Using the Sensory Herbalism approach, we have been meeting the acquaintance of a new plant each week. This has lead us to making nettle tonic wine, teas, fresh juices, various tinctures and even an anti-viral blend in response to Covid-19. It feels great to be blending not only herbal potions but also our various levels of knowledge and personal insights and to be learning alongside each other in such a nourishing way.

Guest Slot – Wildlife Photography – Harry Rule Hodson

Hello my name is Harry Rule Hodson and I am a surfer and a wildlife photographer. Due to the lock down I have been doing lots of my photography at Pentiddy woods. One of my best shots is one of a Roe deer buck.

I took this image early one morning in April while I was walking though the woods. I walked down the paths and 2 Roe deer ran out in front of me and into the woodland. I got down on the ground and looked under the trees. There they were in the clearing, standing looking at me, so I started taking photos! The doe  was really interested in me and kept coming up close and running away again but the buck was less interested and just stood still. This gave me a really good opportunity to get some shots of him though the trees and the final outcome is the image above!

During these uncertain times,I have found that having access and being able to go to the woods has helped me relax and enjoy time outdoors and has helped reconnect me to nature. I would like to thank Anthony and Ele for letting us as a community use the woods for personal exercise etc.

My Instagram feed is here

Thank you for reading and I hope you found this interesting

Best wishes

Harry

Spring 2018

From snow blizzards to heat-waves, we’ve had it all since our last posting. The energy is high and new ideas are rapidly unfurling at Pentiddy. We were anticipating sitting back and enjoying the feeling of having completed the coppicing for the year but the land here had other ideas….and plenty of them!

In this Newsletter…

Coppice products
Roundhouse
Hedgelaying
Burials
Sheep
Scything
Community Woodland
Networking
Volunteers
For sale

Coppice Products.

Finished biochar
Finished biochar

Biochar kiln burning
Biochar kiln burning

So, yes, the Hazel coupe is all cut. Considering it was a first cut we weren’t sure what we’d get out of it but we’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much we’ve managed to sell and use. A wide variety of products have been extracted including hedging stakes and binders, pea sticks, bean poles, bale spikes for 2 straw bale houses and weavers for fencing. The rest will go for firewood and charcoal and the tops are being converted to biochar in Tim’s Oregon kiln or being chipped for use on paths and on beds in the forest garden. Duchy of Cornwall Nurseries and Goldenbank Nursery have been very keen to buy our local products to sell in their shops but sales will depend on the mark-up they put on them. Today we were making up sample batches of liggers, gads and spars to take up to the Guild of Master Thatchers to see if we can persuade them to use UK grown material instead of cheaper Polish imports.

Roundhouse.


The remaining weavers that we didn’t manage to sell are going towards re-building the walls of the roundhouse to replace the planks which were only ever intended to be temporary but have been in place for 10 years! The new walls will be wattle and lime. We will be opening this up as a community project from the 7th to the 11th of May. 11am – 5pm (sorry for the short notice!) Materials are being paid for by donations we’ve collected from people who have used the roundhouse over the last few years. If you would like to get involved please let us know so we can arrange tools etc. Please bring lunch to share. We hope to have a BBQ on the Saturday evening.

Hedgelaying.

Hedgelaying at Pentiddy
Hedgelaying at Pentiddy

We managed to fit in some lengths of hedge-laying before the season ended. We laid West-country style on top of the hedge banks and South of England style on the new hedge by the house. Hannan and Ele have worked up a £10,000 grant application for work on re-building, repairing and laying lengths of hedge all round Pentiddy. If successful there will be plenty of opportunities for anyone wanting to come along and learn the skills involved.

Burials.

Sheep grazing the new burial area
Sheep grazing the new burial area

It’s been a really busy start to the year in the burial site with some beautiful ceremonies and, with a bit of encouragement, an increasing number of families willing to take on more themselves rather than handing everything over to funeral directors. The wild-flower burial area is finally fenced and the sheep have been busy grazing in there. We are now ready to start looking at the rest of the process. The top soil that was removed from the area years ago is needing to find a new home. If you are interested in a large quantity of top soil then please get in touch so we can discuss logistics.

Sheep.

The sheep have been sheared mostly by Tim this year following on from a blade shearing day we attended at Fernhill Farm near Bristol. There’s a lot to it and it will take quite a bit of practice to get it down to 3 minutes per sheep but Tim’s determined. I now have some more fleeces ready for shroud making. Our first lamb was born on Easter day but no more yet so we’re not sure what’s happening there.

Scything.

Freshly Peened blade
Freshly Peened blade

From one sharp tool to another, the scything has begun! Kevin Austin of Skygrove hosted a peening day to help us all to get our blades hammered out and sharpened up ready for hay-making. We picked up plenty of tips from the expert. We will be working with him and others as a mowing team over the Summer so if you have fields that need mowing let us know! If you’re interested in getting involved at hay-making time then get in touch and we’ll keep you posted- or keep an eye on our events calendar.

Community Woodland.

The Community Woodland work days were staggeringly well attended this year. Many thanks to all of you who leant a hand and a good vibe to the days. There are large quantities of top quality firewood available and more to come over the next few years as Ash Die-back has well-and-truly hit. We have purchased a new trailer for the car so we can now deliver 1m³ loads for £120.

Networking.

The last few weekends have seen us attending 3 really interesting meetings relating to getting more happening in Cornwall regarding sustainable land use and community building. The first was the Land Workers Alliances first South West regional meeting. This was a very well attended and inspiring weekend with some very good networking amongst other land workers and policy makers. It also included the opportunity to look around the various projects based on the Dartington Estate of which there are many from forest gardens to CSA schemes and field-scale permaculture designs. We have returned with renewed enthusiasm for my budding forest garden which is really starting to come together. We’re now thinking of setting up a Liskeard area land workers group – watch this space!

Coppice cut at Devichoys Woods
Coppice cut at Devichoys Woods

We also attended the Cornwall Coppice Group meeting at Devichoys Woods where Tom Kemp has been coppicing. He and Nick Jarvis have started a community supported firewood project which also encourages volunteers to get involved in sustainable woodland management. This was on the same weekend as the Cornwall ‘Village building’ Art of Mentoring event designed to connect together those wanting to look at ways to create more holistic communities throughout Cornwall and sharing ideas on how to achieve this. We’re following this up by going along to the Nature Culture Regeneration weekend in May on Dartmoor. We’ll report back…….

Volunteers.

We are set for a great season with a solid team; Tim, Hannan, Esme with Tom as a new addition this week. We are also currently interviewing for the Internship for October and have some very promising candidates.

Tim is taking on increasing levels of responsibility and we’re trying to balance that by offering him the management of areas of coppice and mature woodland for him to try out some of his many masterplans. Since putting him through his chainsaw training last year, the weight of all the felling and processing of timber has been lifted from Anthony who is enjoying returning at last to crafting and teaching. The second Hazel chair course took place earlier this month and produced some great furniture. More courses will be offered in the Autumn to include post and rung stools and a full chair-making course.

For sale:

We have the following products for sale- please contact us if you are interested in anything listed below;

Firewood– 1m³ – £120 – green ash, alder or mix- ringed/split – buy now and it will be ready for the winter… delivery free within a 10mile radius.
Charcoal – sustainable top quality locally produced hardwood barbecue charcoal – 5kg bag – £7.50
Biochar – 40l bag £20
Top soil – call us do discuss…