May 2012

A few years ago, I bought a scythe and exhausted myself trying to use it. I’ve resisted using it ever since – until now. Just watched a few videos on youtube by “The Jolly Scythers” which helped me set my (much cheaper) tool up, then watched this awesome video, that includes how to make a haystack:

The information-gathering is complete. The next step on the road to self-sufficiency is about to begin…

A few weeks ago, we bought a 28-metre string of solar fairy lights from Nigel’s Eco Store. Twenty-eight metres! That’s enough to go all the way round the snail-shell solar shower, then across to – and all the way around – the tree bog. Look:

Can’t see them? How about now:

Only one thing confuses me about these lights – and that’s this claim made on the box: “Up to 40 hours run time per night”.

During the winter of 2010-11, I started a long-term experiment in coppicing. This meant cutting all the overstood sweet chestnut from a patch of woodland near us, with a view to using the new growth for heating in about seven years time. Some young chestnut will be layered and others will, no doubt be taken for fencing by Her Outdoors.

Although each tree was carefully cut at an angle to shed water, then stacked for burning during the winter of 2012-13, the effect when I’d finished was dramatic. Here’s the photo from February 11th 2011:

Some of our chickens were killed by an unknown predator early last year, which gave us the chance to transplant a few healthy ash saplings to add a bit of variety, but otherwise we left the area completely alone. And this is what it looks like today:

If a millionth of a millionth of the life seen in this image was discovered on another planet in our solar system, it would be heralded as the discovery of the millennium and radically change the way our species sees itself. But this is what we have, literally in our own back yard. To be honest, having been completely responsible for the first photo, it’s a bit of a relief.

More on this, much later.

I’m showing all the stages of the tree bog, because at least one reader is just about to start theirs and you never know who could glean what from my experience…

Having decided to use tongue and groove, I needed to add extra joists on either side of the seat to make sure the platform is solid. I also decided to make a wrap-around chute to encourage the processed food to gather in the right place, rather than just a urine guide at the front. The chute is stapled around the joists but stops above the straw to encourage airflow in the chamber (this is a key part of tree bog functioning from what I’ve read, but there aren’t many around and I’d love to have some feedback from people who know more about it).

Although there’s a good chance the chamber on the left will never fill up (we only have two yurts and are only open for a few months of the year), I’ve left the option to switch sides open because there’s NO WAY I’m going to want to play around down there after the tree bog opens for business in the next few days.

This is the dry fit of the seating area. I ended up using the same tongue-and-groove as the flooring instead of ply, partly because of the horrible glue used to make ply, partly because I didn’t know what finish to use so it could be cleaned easily, and partly because – at €39 per square metre – it was far too expensive. (Also, I think ply always looks a bit naff.)

On the left you’ll see some trim I’m going to use to finish the bog. I’ve never used trim before, but the pine is from trees only a couple of hours away from here and it should look excellent.

(It’ll also give me an easy headline for a blog post next week.)

A solar shower was always going to be part of the écovallée experience. Originally, I wanted us to have the latest and greatest green technology for our guests to enjoy. But the costs of running electricity to the field, the twin-coil boiler, evacuated tubes etc. – in France – were prohibitive.

Of course, we’ve got books on DIY solar showers and considered black radiators under glass, hoses in strings of plastic bottles, buckets with holes in the bottom and all that fun stuff. But even with our “budget”, we’re still aiming to provide an unexpected level of luxury. Plus, many of our guests have very young children who need a controllable source of hot water.

So we ended up buying an aluminium swimming-pool shower, and knocked up a temporary cubicle for 2011…

…while we worked out how we were going to make this (as conceived by Her Outdoors):

Fortunately, Project1p happened and we swapped what we had (one week in a yurt) for what was on offer (a custom-made metal object):

I asked a local company what the wood would cost, turned down their estimate of €1,400 and bought it for €83 from a local wood yard, then spent five days sanding it. Finally all the elements were in one place:

We laid out the snail shell shape:

And started with the short side:

Which was up by the end of the day:

And looked pretty good, even if I do type so myself:

The next day saw the snail shell finished:

Which just needed oiling and photographing:

A few times:

Even if it meant lying in the shower tray to get the shape just so:

And not forgetting the penny that helped it all happen:

You might have noticed the gravel bed behind the temporary shower cubicle in the first shot. This is the first stage grey-water treatment before draining into a willow trench planted a few years ago. Here’s what it looks like at the moment, after one year of plant growth and some finishing touches by Her Outdoors:

Something else that will only get more and more beautiful over time.

Two coats of white-staining oil for the floor and some recycled tongue-and-groove, and we’re nearly there. I’ve got the toilet seat. You’re going to love the toilet seat.

Her Outdoors spotted this yesterday behind the tractor shed:

We think it’s a Violet Birdsnest Orchid – and will be keeping a close eye on it in the next few days.

In the last few days, our hand-sown crop has grown heads. Mainly on the bits we manured.

If you know anything about the cost of second-hand cars in France, you won’t be surprised to read that I got our new-used car in England. If you’re thinking of doing the same, you might find the following useful.

The first thing to do was switch the headlights over to left-hand drive headlights. We used Headlampshop on ebay, following a recommendation, which all went smoothly (and cost about €260). Because the fitting wasn’t a simple spanner and hammer job, I used our local garage (which cost about €80).

Then I needed a Certificat de Conformité from Toyota France. This is a piece of paper that says the car can be driven on French roads. I tried to get around it, but discovered it is currently compulsory. A mugging at pen-point, if you like – or even if you don’t (which cost €135 but is dependent on car make, type, power etc).

Armed with this, I could put the car through its Contrôle Technique. This is the French equivalent of the UK’s MOT but only needs to be done every two years. The mechanics are reassuringly thorough and the whole thing takes about 30 mins (and cost €68).

Armed with this, I could go to the Sous Préfecture in Bergerac. I also took the UK registration document, Certificat de Conformité, my passport, a justificatif de domicile (recent bill to show we live here), my insurance documents and anything else I could think that I might be asked for. The woman handed me a Carte Grise (vehicle registration) request form and wrote on the bottom that I was missing a “quitus fiscal”. This I needed to get from the Hotel des Impôts. I went and watched a woman complete, by hand, a beautiful form – in triplicate – who handed me the top copy. It seemed pointless, although charmingly antiquated, and I began to feel empathy towards people in offices doing this for a living (or more likely, a retirement, but that’s a different story). I went back to the Sous Préfecture and handed all my papers over again, answered a few questions, watched the woman trying to make sense of forms she saw every day (with increasing empathy), was given a new form to take to the next window with everything else and paid for our new number plate (cost €96.50 and is also dependent on the type of car).

I knew from before that I had only a short time in which to change the plates or face a fine, so I immediately went back to the garage. They ordered and fitted the plates for me (for about €50).

Now all that remains is to go back to the Contrôle Technique and have them put a sticker on my shiny new Carte Grise, and to tell my insurance company about the change, so they can print out a new – and final – piece of paper for me. I don’t think this will cost anything.

Any questions?

Next Page »