March 2017

Natural Swimming Pond

swimming pond picture
The Natural Swimming pond almost complete

The pond has moved along well- but was slowed for a while due to an unforeseen issue- finding the right type of gravel for the planting/filtration areas.

On reading much on the subject it seems that the size of gravel is fairly specific, and also it needs to be clean- we found that most granite chippings available locally are not washed and therefore contain a variety of particle sizes including fine sand- which is great for surfacing a drive, but not good for filtration, in fact it would quickly clog up the system completely.

We eventually managed to find what we needed, and find it locally. Little John’s pit in St Austell came up trumps with 20 tonnes of a 14mm washed gravel, and they delivered it to site at a very reasonable price- thank you to all we spoke to! Unfortunately though, they could not get their lorries down our track to the pond so the mountain of gravel was delivered outside the barn, so Tim and Anthony have been wheelbarrowing it to the pond… slow, laborious and very muddy work! Nearly there though and looking really good.

The water level in the pond is gradually rising, and all the filtration and aeration system is in place, along with one underwater light because Anthony likes lights! The pontoon which will allow us to dive into the pond is also under construction. We just need it to fill to it’s intended final level so we can complete the planting and test these systems.

We have introduced some oxygenating plants too, and hope the frogs will like the gradually clearing result!

Ahhhh, can’t wait- SPLOOSH!

Open Day – April 8th 2017

On April the 8th we will be opening the site here to an event tied into the Small woods Association national bean pole week… This is already looking like it will be a fairly large event with a ‘local and sustainable’ theme- and over 30 stalls showcasing businesses and individuals from the local area.
It has been an interesting process drawing all the necessary bits together, and our main hope now is that the weather is kind to us on the day!

If you are interested in finding out more about this day and the stalls and talks happening, please visit the Open Day event page. If you would like to support the event in a more practical way, we are looking for volunteer stewards to help with the parking on the day just for an hour each….

Natural Dyeing

test colour picture
Dye test colours

No not a mis-spelling! Ele has been doing some chemistry with onion skins, rust and metal salts to dye some curtains intended to hang across the lounge beam. Various colours have been achieved by using different mordants at different stages in the process, from oranges and yellows to greens. The orange colour Ele chose has taken very well, and the cloth is drying now ready to be hung soon. Thanks to the members of Canoryon Lowen (the choir Ele is in) for collecting 500g of onion skins over Christmas and to Sarah Cole for her moral support!

Profile- Tim

tim picture
Tim splitting down chesnut for hurdles

We thought we might do a profile here. We realised that you may have heard mention of Tim, but we have not introduced him so… Tim came here for a month last March, and despite all we have thrown at him he has not yet left!

He was born in Australia (too hot), grew up in Dubai (way too hot) and has been WWOOFing in Ireland, Wales and England for two years now (just right).

Last year he was key to the massive hay-making project and bramble bashing efforts as well as the 1,000,001 other jobs he’s taken on here. Lately he’s been busy helping barrow gravel down to the pond and, when it’s really wet, making rakes in preparation for the next hay cut (for which he’s lusting after a 110cm Rasierschnitt on a Danish-style snath). He’s getting kune-kune pigs in about six weeks and has started making cleft chestnut gate hurdles, which he hopes (possibly in vain) to use to rotate the pigs around Becky’s field with. He’s been milling rye grains recently and has got a vigorous sourdough living in the airing cupboard but can’t seem to get the hang of a rye sourdough that isn’t gummy…yet.

He has recently received a promotion from ‘WWOOFer’ to ‘apprentice and adopted family member’. He really does keep the whole place on track and keeps energy and enthusiasm going when we’re flagging. He’s with us for at least another year so you’ll be hearing lots more about him.

Birch Tapping

Birch sap picture
Birch Sap Tapping

When Tim arrirved last year he brought with him a bottle of birch syrup which was absolutely delicious. However it was at that point too late in the year for us to tap our trees, but Adeon and Tim have tried a little this year, and made small amounts of syrup. We think maybe we are still a little late, but have had some small success, and enjoyed having the results on our weekend pancakes. Birch sap reduction is much higher than with the sap of other trees such as the Sugar Maple or Red Maple, so you get much less syrup for the volume of sap collected. We planted a Red Maple tree several years ago because apparently it is the best sap tree for the uk climate as well as being a very attractive tree, but we have never tapped it and it seems that it should have been tapped even earlier than the birch, so we’ve missed our opportunity for this year.

Pentiddy Community Woodland work days

We had a lovely day in the Community woodland on February 19th and cleared most of the Ash which had been thinned through the area near the main gate. The weather, though not sunny was dry and pleasant. There was lots of interesting conversation and a lovely lunch.

We have another day planned on March 12th and if anyone can make it out to lend a hand for an hour or two (or all day!) we will welcome you, and we’ll also feed you! This day will include some general tidying, and some planting of a few oak trees in sparse areas….

Newsletter Hackers

Apologies (once again)- having set up the subscription process and happy that it all worked, some of you will have been sent multiple notifications, and some of you will have clicked to find someone had hacked the post on my website and left a nice picture ‘just for fun’.(grrrr!)

I ‘suspended’ notifications, subscriptions and unsubscriptions whilst I checked things and double checked them. Another sharp learning curve later, and with the installation of extra security on the website and a few other tweaks It is now fully working again. Thankfully it apperars due to the nature of the hack that this did not put any of you at risk, your computers and e-mail details remain intact. Phew! Could you please let me know if you get more than one notification this time so I can work out why. Thanks all for your patience.

Newsletter February 2017

Welcome to what will hopefully now become our monthly newsletter. Our aim here is to impart some useful information and share news and insights from all the sub-projects that make up Pentiddy.  We hope the content will be insightful and informative.

We have a huge amount of gratitude for being able to live here and steward this plot of land. Many who walk, attend events  and learn here also have a love of the place. This newsletter is a means of celebrating everyone’s connection to Pentiddy.

This is the time of year for all thoughts that have been brewing over the winter to awaken and start sprouting. Buds and ideas swell and bulbs and new ventures push up through the earth. It’s certainly had its effect on us!

We’ve been enjoying our visits from the buzzard who perches on the same gate post daily to look for breakfast. we’ve also been treated to numerous breath-taking sunrises and the first taste of fresh wild salads.

Natural Swimming Pond

pond liner in.
Pond liner in!
is this level.
Is this level?

Sitting on the veranda one sunny spring day last year, counting our many blessings, we rhetorically asked- “…how could this be any better?”. One of the children then piped up- “Well… it would be good if we could swim in the pond…”

So we’ve started the process of changing our small wildlife pond into a natural swimming pond which is no small task! It’s been interesting work to carry out in the middle of winter as it has involved lots of mud, and wading in the pond in January to build the sand bag wall (which was not Anthony’s favourite job!).

The principle of a natural swimming pond is simple enough- instead of chemicals to clean the water, oxygenating plants are used and nutrient levels kept as low as possible to inhibit algal growth. The planted zone has to be at least equal in area to the swimming zone, so we will still have a haven for wildlife. We’ll let you know how effective it is once it has been completed and the plants and biology have established properly.

We can’t wait to swim in it come the spring…

Pentiddy Natural Burials

Burial Extension

We have received planning permission to extend the burial site into the area to the south of the existing site where the previously planted Chestnuts have not thrived. This area was under our Woodland Creation Grant with the Forestry Commission who have agreed to us removing the trees and changing the use from forestry to burials. Because of the low fertility levels in this area we have decided it will work best as a wild flower meadow which also offers further choice for those being buried here and it increases the diversity of habitat.

Following a meeting with local grassland expert Kevin Austin (Skyegrove) we now have a clearer plan in place for using the sheep to manage the grass in the early Spring and Autumn and cutting for hay in the summer. We have also sown a couple of areas of yellow rattle, a wild flower that is parasitic on grass and will assist in the creation of some wild flower glades for wildlife.

Sustainable, Biodegradeable Coffins

With the Burial site, the coppice and the skills base, we figured we should at least look into producing a sustainable coppice-based coffin. We’ve encouraged our basket-making friend Jessie Carr who lives here in Pensilva to have a go at making a willow coffin for our next burial here. She agreed to include some willow grown at Pentiddy which we’re hoping to supply to her in increasing amounts. The coffin she has produced is stunning.

Back at Pentiddy’s workshop we’ve been busy thrashing out ideas for using Hazel for coffins for a quicker and therefore cheaper coffin and we’re also looking at developing shrouds with a hazel base. We’ll keep you posted on progress.

Coppice and Sales

Chestnut coppice in process

We have started the coppice cycle with a cut in the area of Sweet Chestnut above the house, and also a re-cut of the 3 year old Hazel. Although only a small area, the Hazel is of fantastic quality with pretty much all of the poles selling by word of mouth. It has gone for hedging stakes and binders, bale spikes for a straw bale build and of course bean poles. We have also supplied the Devon Rural Skills Trust with materials for their hurdle making course. As it is the first cut for the Chestnut there are not really any useful poles this time round but an awful lot of firewood! Tim is also experimenting with a kontiki kiln for making biochar with the brash tops.

Workshop dry store

As part of our post-house process, the Heartwood Creations woodworking workshop is undergoing an overhaul with the anticipation of running a series of courses starting again this year. Materials salvaged from the demolition of the mobile home and left-over house build straw as insulation have created a dry store attached to the workshop so Anthony can have rust-free dry tools. Francis (who has the allotment here) has also donated her old kitchen cupboards for storage. He’s a very happy man! What’s even better is that he also has a whole list of things to make so he’ll be making very good use of the new space in the next few months.

Open Day – April 8th 2017

April the 8th will see us opening the site here to an event tied into the Small Woods Association national bean pole week. This is looking like it will be a fairly large event with a ‘local and sustainable’ theme – around 30 stalls showcasing businesses and individuals from the local area. there will also be talks, demonstrations and live entertainment. Put the date in your diaries. More information will be available in the next newsletter.

Courses and Events Calendar

The websites and content have had an overhaul and we now have a calendar of events which include courses run through Heartwood Creations, community work days for the Community Woodland and  anticipated dates for sheep grazing and hay making in the burial site. We’re breaking ourselves in gently with courses this year offering only a few but we hope to be at full speed in 2018. Ele’s pursuing a Food Hygiene course so that we can include a home-produced lunch down at the house for course participants.

Newsletter Subscriptions

Once again an apology for any spurious e-mails, and any odd things that have happened whilst things were tested, re-jigged and set-up. I am not a whizz with technology, just a little bit of a geek, and I hope that eventually my efforts will make the suite of Pentiddy websites an interesting, useful and informative resource….

Please pass on the link to our newsletter to anyone you think may be interested and encourage them to subscribe.  Unsubscribing is also easy and is honoured- we are not into e-mail spam!

As always we love to get feedback. Let us know your thoughts on the newsletter content, how we could improve it or the websites and their content. Any broken links or spelling mistakes…

Enjoy the Spring!

Hay with hand tools….

Making hay from the burial site with Scythes, rakes, forks and sweat!hay7

A whole host of things happened earlier in the season to conspire against us mowing the burial site in the way we have previously with the ride-on mower.

Our aim has always been to try and use more sustainable methods to manage the grass so this year we fenced the site and put our sheep in to graze for a week or so. Unfortunately the grass was already too long for them really, and they seem to like eating memorial flowers which is not overly popular as you might imagine.

Our next decision was to make hay.

Well, a few years back we bought some Austrian scythes, and have used them a lot- in fact my strimmer has not been used since purchasing the wonderful tool. So Tim (who is here with us for a year or so…) Adeon and myself launched ourselves at the grass with enthusiasm. Wow! hard work! The first bit of cutting was really wet, heavy and with the grass laying all over the place thanks to some bright spark putting sheep in to squash it down, was not a joyous process.

Things gradually got easier as the grass lost the water sitting on it, we peened our scythe blades and refined our mowing techniques. The weather got hotter, and hotter so we made a few dawn starts with the mowing (5am – too hot by 7am!)

hay3The Hay making was also something we got better at as time progressed. We also improved in the art of spreading the grass out which Ele, Elowen and Sesame (the little black lamb we’ve been looking after) all got involved with (apparently the machine they use is a tedder/fluffer, so could we say tedding?), windrowing, turning, and a process we called hoovering which involves either a rake or a pitch-fork placed at the top of a windrow, then racing down the row building up a pile of hay as you go, the movement a little like hoovering (apparently, whatever one of those is). Great fun!

hay6What does one do with nearly an acres worth volume of hay?

Well haystacks- or ‘ricks’ seemed worth a go so after a little research we mounded a load of hay up on a makeshift platform and send a small child or two up on top to bounce around and compact it.

We also decided to try making bales and pressed our worm bin into service as a former. Running strings down into the bin, we shoved as much hay as we could into the bin and stood on it. Tied up the strings and voila! a homemade hay bale. Tim streamlined his technique and was making one every 6 minutes…..hay2

We have mountains of hay now- and only 7 sheep (8 including Sesame) so though we’re not 100% sure on the logic we’ve decided on getting another 4 ewes to eat it all!!

In conclusion the process was labour intensive, but a lot of fun. Next year we hope to offer others to come and get involved- and intend to run a mini scything course. Please get in touch if you would be interested. Also please subscribe to this newsletter if you have not done so already….

 

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.

Please pass the newsletter details on to anyone you think might be interested,

Click on the subscribe button in the menu above.

Gatherings, botany, sap, salads and spoons

Here we are in all our post-build glory! The last of the scaffolding has just come down so in my book that means we’ve finished the house! Time to start a new phase with a new blog. The house build blog will remain accessible via the web site as it may be of use/interest to other would-be straw house builders. This new blog will be a general one to include anything of interest going on here including information about the Community Woodland.

The sun is making a very welcome appearance, the leaves are just breaking on the trees, the birds are singing, the lambs a-gamboling- surely this signifies the coming of spring! Hurrah! (just be careful mind- them there frosts do catch e out!)

So, what has been going on or is going to be going on that may be of interest to you? We have a few gatherings that we’ve been asked to host:

Jane, our part-time WWOOFer, is running Everyday Botany through the WEA as a weekend course in the roundhouse with optional camping on May 7th and 8th. This is then to be followed with Community Ecology and Prove it in June and July. For more information on all of these visit www.wea.org.uk or phone 01872 320036.

The Cornwall Coppice Group is visiting later this month and we’re hosting the Summer gathering for the SW Art of Mentoring group following on from my attendance at an introductory course in the Autumn. If you agree with me that the way to repair our environment, our communities and ourselves is to re-connect with nature, each other and self then have a look at the website. Such an inspiring movement to be a part of.

Although Anthony’s workshop space is up-side-down following the build, we are planning to get it back to a functioning state ready for a bent hazel chair course and traditional hay rake course both due to happen over the summer but dates yet to be confirmed. Both these will be run using our first cut of Hazel coppice. We have only cut a very small area but we have sold pretty much all that came out of it for fencing and bean poles which feels very positive. We are taking orders for poles for next year for Hazel and Chestnut so let us know if you’re interested.

Food produce wise, we are only aiming to produce enough food for ourselves and volunteers but have recently begun to sell surplus salads to The Growing Project which runs an organic veg box scheme in Pensilva. Ruth is very happy to buy surplus produce from any local organic garden on a week-by-week basis which suits us perfectly. We are also buying a weekly box to see us through the hungry gap and can highly recommend it!

Our present volunteer, Tim, gained experience with his previous hosts in making syrup from Silver Birch sap. We were a little late in the season with our tapping but have succeeded in making a small quantity and will be better prepared for next year. It tastes amazing! We’re also enjoying getting back to brewing with gorse, bramble tip, oak leaf and mint wines on the go and fire cider sitting in a dark cupboard.

Pentiddy Natural Burials continues to trickle in the funds to keep the project progressing. We are currently looking at extending the site to enable it to continue for many-a-year to come. The area to the south of the existing site which was planted with Chestnut as part of our intended coppice has not flourished due to a variety of factors. We are looking at removing the trees and fencing this area to provide more plots available for burial.

On a less positive note however, the wooden ‘Pentiddy Community Woodland’ sign at the entrance to the site was vandalised last week and has had to be removed. I won’t rant and say all the things you’re probably thinking, we’ll just carry on doing what we’ve always done and hope that some of the positive community intentions eventually rub off. To help the charity to raise the funds to replace the sign you can of course make a donation or you can order a load of prime ash firewood for next winter. Get in quick! Contact us or call us if this is of interest to you.

Spoon whittling,

We have a thought of running an open (and no cost) whittling evening sometime in the summer- an opportunity for anyone interested to come and sit around a camp-fire with a cup of tea and a knife and create something of use- a spoon, a hanging hook, a pointy stick…..Please contact us if you would be interested.

Sorry, but we were going to have some nice pictures to brighten up the post- but we have a few issues with the uploading process….. maybe the next one I will have ironed out the creases!

Regards to  all…….

The all new Pentiddy newsletter!

So…….it’s been a long time since we last wrote. We hadn’t realised how much of a toll the house build had taken on us all so it’s felt very necessary to just be here in the house, together as a family which has meant that we have been a little out of touch with the outside world. However, the coming of Spring has led us to a place of renewed vitality and exciting visions for the future of Pentiddy.

Whilst trying to remain realistic of our capabilities and energy levels, we feel ready to start a new phase, to include much more interaction with our community offering opportunities for learning, volunteering and enjoying what has been created here.

Jane has taken up temporary residence in her caravan as a part-time WWOOFer whilst continuing with her work for Nature Workshops. She has proved to be a great stimulus to getting us back on track with ideas for courses and events and is hoping to run botany courses from the roundhouse during the summer.

We are making plans to run a series of workshops ourselves from here next year to include everything from  outdoor cookery to build-your-own mini septic tank system, using working examples to inspire.  2018 will see the return of Anthony’s popular green wood-working courses following a revamp of his workshop space.

Following my participation in a course last autumn entitled ‘an introduction to nature connection and the the Art of Mentoring’ I have become involved in an amazing network of people working to reconnect people to themselves, to their community and to nature in readiness for returning to a way of life that creates whole people in functional communities living lightly on the earth – inspiring stuff! We feel honoured that the summer gathering for the South West will be here at Pentiddy (date to be confirmed) and look forward to increased involvement as a family. Adeon has signed up for a Right of Passage series that will prepare him and a group of similarly aged boys, for entering manhood. Men from the SW Art of Mentoring network will be running this with assistance from the boys’ fathers. It feels so right to be reintroducing such an vital part of community life.

It seems more important than ever that communities learn to work together and to that end, we have decided to make a start at developing more community links by running whittling evenings, probably once a month, giving local people the opportunity to sit round an open fire together shaping wood and drinking tea whilst allowing conversation to flow.  We will announce that start of these in a later newsletter.

On a woody note, we have felled another section of hazel coppice so have large piles of straight-ish poles of mixed diameters available if anyone can make use of them. Due to it being a first cut and a fairly small area there are not really enough quality poles to try and market but we’d love to see them used. Please get in touch if you’re interested.

For now we need to get back to preparing the garden for the growing season and completing the winter work job list.

Very much looking forward to Spring and being back in the loop!

Ele