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…

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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.

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