Category Archives: Technical

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

February 2020

In this newsletter:

February stew
Woodgas cookstove
Klaudia
Lily
Alex
Evan
Josh
Geeky technical tinkering
Community Woodland work day

We’ve just looked at the blog and realised how ridiculously long it’s been since we wrote anything! We knew it had been too long but the more we thought about it, the more we panicked because so much has happened and we didn’t know where to start. Thankfully, one of the bonuses of the recent stormy weather is that we have been unable to do quite so much work outdoors, so here we are with a bumper edition as 7 of us will be contributing!

Hannan, Ros, Alex and Tim from last year have all moved on but are still very much a part of our lives. The new crew are now all installed. It feels like they’ve been here for ever! Each of them introduce themselves in a bit…

February Stew (Ele)

I got so excited serving up 8 bowls of steaming stew last week when I realised that all of the ingredients were from Pentiddy (except for the flour in the dumplings). Feeding lots of hungry mouths day-after-day on home grown/produced food at this time of year is a challenge and something to celebrate when it’s achieved!

Hearty Pentiddy Stew.
Hearty Pentiddy Stew

So, here’s the recipe for the stew:

Borlotti beans (dried last Summer then soaked and cooked in pressure cooker)
Onions (From Francis’s allotment here. Mine were not great!)
Garlic (hanging, dried, in the kitchen)
Jerusalem artichokes (still in the ground)
Yacon (still in the ground)
Parsnips (still in the ground)
Perennial greens (Daubenton kale from the forest garden)
Shitake stems (grown on logs here then dried and ground)
Mixed seaweeds (kelp and sea spaghetti harvested in the Summer, dried and ground)
Nettle and treen spinach powder (dried and ground)
Chillies (fresh from the plant over-Wintering in the kitchen)
Rosemary (fresh from the polytunnel)
Sage (fresh from the garden)
Parsely (fresh from the garden)
Thyme (fresh from the planters on the veranda)
Damson wine (last Autumn’s)

Dumplings:
Organic wholemeal flour (how I wish it was at least locally-grown!)
Lard (grated. From the pigs that Tim butchered last Summer)

…Kelp lasagne tonight with meadow waxcaps…followed by an apple and blueberry crumble with a yacon topping…

Wood Gas cook stove (Anthony)

A couple of years ago I was given a small portable wood gas cooking stove. Testing it I was impressed and realised it worked really well, but due to its size it required regular re-fuelling and a lot of attention. At this point ideas formed and designs were hastily scribbled to build a larger more useful cooking stove using the same principle.

The stove works by heating wood to release the wood gas and then igniting the gas to produce an incredibly clean and efficient burn. The principle is fairly simple- light a fire in the internal chamber, once it is hot, air is drawn up between the inner and outer skins and pre-heated before being fed into the top of the chamber where it combines with the unburnt gasses and helps them to ignite. I worked out that by using two gas cylinders of different sizes (one 13kg, one 7kg) the larger version could be made.

After removing the valves of the cylinders and purging them by filling with water, the first step was cutting the top off both bottles and the bottom off the larger one. Then came the process of drilling many holes around the top of the smaller bottle and in the base of it too. I then sat the whole thing off the ground so air could enter underneath and lit a fire inside to test it… and it worked!

My task now is to mount it on legs to put it at a better height for cooking on. I might even give it a coat of stove paint! The stove will be used as part of our outdoor kitchen, with the eventual aim of shedding the reliance on our bottled gas stove. With this we are one step closer to the goal, and I’m a happy man!

Anthony’s sketched plans are available here.

Klaudia

I have been living at Pentiddy for over a year now, joining in with some of the work and community life and also looking after a neighbour’s field. I bring some permaculture expertise and am currently teaching a design course in Plymouth, which 2 of the interns attend, as well as facilitating a design for St Ive parish for a zero carbon future. I’ve been bringing groups of permaculture students to Pentiddy to see one of the best examples i know of permaculture in action.

Lily

Hi, I’m Lily. I’ve been at Pentiddy since October as part of my placement year for my Geography with Forestry degree at Bangor Uni.

I’m particularly interested in food production and sustainable woodland management, with emphasis being on the regenerative practices of leaving the land in a better state of being.

The forest garden is the perfect opportunity for me to learn the basics as it is still in it’s developmental stages. All of this links to my dissertation subject of biochar as a pathway to regenrative culture with improved food security.

Finally, during my time here I’ve developed a keen interest in Ki-Aikido and green woodwork, both of which I plan to do a blog post about.

Currently, I am excited to get on with making my chair and willow basket under Anthony’s and Ele’s direction respectively.

Alex

I’m Alex, a gardening enthusiast from the south west! Having spent a lot of time at my allotment over the past year and dreaming of a more practical and holistic way of growing food I decided to join Pentiddy as an intern.

I’m, excited to be learning more about trees, and their management in coppice, charcoal burning and hedgelaying as well as building on my gardening knowledge with some crafty bits and bobs too. As an artist I’ll be recording some of my time through my print-works and trying to build a series of seasonal inspired prints. You can take a look at my work here www.alexgoodman.bigcartel.com

Evan

Evans the name. Life’s the game. I enjoy many things, not really having a specific area of interest – I prefer the big picture. It’s clear to me that there are many more desirable aspects of living the Pentiddy way, compared to modern (especially urban) lifestyles. So I am looking to learn as many of these ways as possible so I can apply them to my LIFE. I have a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering, and like to think of practical solutions to problems. I practice ashtanga vinyasa yoga and consider myself a fairly metaphysical fellow. My favourite group activities include, going to the pub, deep conversations, games and eating.

Josh

I’m Josh. I’m doing a three month internship at Pentiddy Woods. Before coming to Pentiddy, I was earning my living as a green woodworker, handcarving wooden spoons and making wooden bowls on a foot-powered pole lathe. During my time here, I’m hoping learn about coppicing and woodland management (which includes going on a chainsaw course), whilst also expanding my knowledge of greenwoodworking. Stonewoodcraft.com

A garden planning session…

Geeky Technical tinkering (Anthony)

Over the last year or so I have re-discovered my (never quite dormant) interest in electronics, computers and programming, and have ended up being absorbed (sorry Ele et al!) in two projects.

The first of these came from upgrading our solar controller to a Morningstar Tristar TS-45. Now this controller happens to have a com port and so I just had to explore connecting it to our laptop…

 Esp32 Datalogger in development.
Datalogger in development.

The upshot of this was managing to get it to talk to my Linux based system, learning a little Python programming language and eventually getting current data from the controller displayed on the desktop using a program called Conky. (I know, I know… your glazing over now aren’t you!)

The second project came from discovering a development board called an ESP32 (catchy name!)

This little board is really cheap, has wi-fi and bluetooth on board and can be programmed to do all sorts of things. I concieved the idea of building a real-time data-logger, tracking power in and out of the house, as well as temperature, humidity and pressure. This is still in process, but is working in part. I might even end up combining the previous project and get the logger to store the info from the TS-45!

I am sharing this mainly because I found it difficult to find the information I needed and I’m happy to share my findings with anyone interested.

Community Woodland work day

A brief reminder that Sunday 23rd Feb will see us back out in the community woodland for a work day. Please come and lend a hand if you can make it.

Solar update

So, after a few teething problems (an airlocked panel- slight modification to include air bleed valve, and a pin-leak in one joint) The panels are heating our water!

YES!

Thought I would share the cost of the system too so people can decide if it’s worth it or not….

Excluding the roof itself (i.e the structure and polycarbonate roof sheets), the aluminium (reclaimed from our old mobile home), the other bits and bobs like gas/solder/flux… the plumbing bits cost a total of £170.

Quite a lot of time has gone into the fabrication and installation, and we already had the twin coil cylinder installed so this perhaps is not a true reflection of a retrofit system, but my feeling is that it will VERY QUICKLY repay the investment.

There is a point also I should make about this type of installation- it will not pass muster with building regs and SAP reports as it does not have HETAS approval or efficiency ratings, and is not installed by a qualified engineer- so clearly it’s not worth doing….? A rant for another day methinks!

Anyhow, hope you have found this interesting.

Till next random post….

Anthony

Solar heating- re-using our mobile home!

Hello and welcome to the newsletter once again.

As always things have been ticking along and lots of things happening here- not least because of our current (and long term….) volunteer Tim, who is young fit and enthusiastic, and has helped move us swiftly through a long list of tasks to the point where we actually feel like we might be ‘on top’ of things for a while.

Amongst these projects has been the Solar Water Heating panels.

Initially my thoughts were to purchase aluminium clip on solar fins from the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT)- these I have used before in the several systems I have built. On looking however I found they were no longer for sale. We eventually settled on a plan- since we had recovered the aluminium sheeting from the outer of our mobile home we would manufacture our own clip fins…..

After a few trial goes, we settled on a jig that worked, and wearing ear defenders proceeded to hammer out the slots in the cut rectangles of aluminium sheeting. We used a 15mm steel bar (from a well known on line auction site….) and the jig from scraps of wood and angle steel.

We used a Header/Footer and riser layout for the pipework- 22mm for the main Head/Foot and from panels to the cylinder, 15mm for the risers which the fins clip to….

After soldering each of the four panels up, we installed the fins using silicone to fill the small gap between fin and pipe (silicone conducts heat better than air…). A slap on of matt black paint, and we moved to the installation.

As those who have read earlier posts on the house blog site may recall, the outdoor kitchen roof pitch was set to get the best average summer sun, and our intention was to mount the panels into the rafters of the roof. This inevitably meant removing the polycarbonate roofing sheets, and drilling holes in perfectly good rafters…. a window of good weather was needed and we were lucky it happened just as we were ready to install.

tim installing the backing to a panel.
Tim installing the backing to a panel.

More soldering, lots of awkward ladder positions and messing about balancing on narrow bits of wood, and we had the panels in place. We backed them with more aluminium sheeting and insulated with the remains of our old futon mattress… hoarding things that ‘might be useful one day’ sometimes pays off!

The pipework to the cylinder was the next challenge- hindsight is a wonderful thing and it showed me that I should have left myself better access to the hot water cylinder- I had to cut a hole in the wall between Elowens’ room and the airing cupboard- messy and awkward, and has left me another thing to tidy up. Ah well!

Drilling through straw walls is interesting!

Without further minutae of detail suffice to say I managed to plumb the system in and solve the few small leaks in solder joints. The indications thus far are that all will work fine- but we have not had a good hot day to properly show this to be the case….. I will keep you updated.

As with any of these posts if you would like further information or to chat about stuff we have done get in touch.

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