The pallet pig ark has long been one of the most-read posts on this blog. It’s the first animal structure I ever made and will always be my favourite. But although I’ve shown it in place a few times, I’ve never actually demonstrated how it’s put together.

(Apologies in advance for the new, low-quality photography that will sometimes be featured in this blog – I’m now carrying an inexpensive smartphone. In the near future, you can also expect low-quality videos, but they should be worth watching if the microphone is any good. I can’t wait to record the birdsong in spring and early summer.)

Back to yesterday – as part of preparations for the 2014 glamping season, we moved the now-called pallet goose house from the orchard to its new location at the bottom of the guest field. Here it is ready to go up:

pallet house parts

I’ll walk you through the assembly and point out adjustments made since January 2008. Bearing in mind this is at least the ninth time it has been assembled, you’ll see why I’m deliriously happy with the structure. All the pieces can be moved by one person except the base and back wall. This wall is attached using two L-shaped brackets (added because the pigs kept pushing it off the base):

pallet house back

Next, a nice, light side is attached with an L-shaped bracket. You’ll notice the chicken wire holding in the straw insulation has gone. This was a terrible idea, as it broke so easily. Fortunately, I had some ply lying around and bodged these onto the uprights to make a more airtight inner layer. I didn’t bother with treating it and it seems to be fine:

pallet house side 2

Before screwing the L-shaped bracket down, the wall is fixed with long bolts through the top (we’ll come back to that piece of leaning wood in a few seconds):

pallet house top fixing

And bottom (this shot is of the second wall, to add confusion):

pallet house fixing

The front wall is then added and the leaning piece of wood at the back becomes a lintel:

pallet house lintel

Finally, the roof is lifted on from behind and screwed directly into the top of the uprights:

pallet house finished

I originally put the roof on a light wooden frame but it broke the first time it was moved. On the ground at the back of the house will be a container for catching rainwater.

All that remains now is to make a door from another pallet and we can herd the geese down the field to their new enclosure. (Could be a low-quality video opportunity there.) We haven’t kept geese behind an electric fence before, so there’s room for a bit of chaos in the days ahead. It’s basically there to keep our dogs away during the day and foxes out at night.


At the risk of sounding like Swiss Toni from The Fast Show, self-sufficiency is a lot like perpetual motion. It seems like a lovely idea, is probably impossible, and almost completely useless. 

Considering impossibility

In Christmases past, I used to argue with a friend of mine’s dad about perpetual motion. “Alex,” he would say while shaking his head and re-filling his pipe. “You haven’t considered entropy.” (He’s a nuclear physicist – they say things like that.) And he was right. I only recently looked it up.

But fundamental laws of physics aside, I am happy to concede that if a perpetual motion machine was invented, it would serve no useful purpose. As soon as you started to draw power from it – and why else would you be building a machine – I suspect it would stop working.

So it is with self sufficiency.

Ignoring the grim reality of the self-sufficient life for a moment – the making of clothes from your own wool, the exposure of your crops and animals to the vagaries of the weather, the impossible number of skills you would need to master, the relentless work – as soon as you wanted to draw money from your labour (to pay property taxes, exchange for school meals etc), I’m sure your carefully woven life-support system would unravel.

What’s the point?

And what’s the use of self-sufficiency anyway – even if you did achieve it?

Sometimes I read that producing food for yourself and your family is a right-wing thing. It smarts because, although I’m nowhere near that end of the political spectrum, there’s more than one grain of truth to it. (Selfish sufficiency might be a better term.)

Like many people who have started working towards having control of their own food supply, of wresting control for their destinies from amoral corporate bodies and faceless bureaucracies, I could not happily feed myself if other people went without. Like the Ubuntu legend (you know – the one where African children all win a basket full of sweets by approaching it hand in hand), I could only be truly happy if everyone else was OK, too.

Which is why, in 2013, like God facing the irrefutable evidence of his own existence in the Hitchhiker’s Guide, self-sufficiency as a goal vanished in a puff of logic.

I have to say, it’s a bit of a relief.

A much better idea

No doubt following another fundamental law of physics, a new goal rushed into the aspirational vacuum in my head. This idea, which if it’s any good should need no explanation, I’m going to call: Community Sufficiency.

You’ll be reading more about this in 2014, and experiencing some of it if you come and stay in écovallée.

In the meantime, I hope you and yours have a wonderful, happy mid-winter festival, Saturnalia, or whatever else you choose to call the celebration of our hemisphere’s darkest day. After tomorrow, the light’s coming back, it’ll soon be spring, and the future is ripe with possibilities.

One of the many exciting improvements we’re making before the start of next season is a new website.

Yes, I know the we have at the moment is very beautiful. But it was designed by a designer, using a load of programs I don’t have access to, and there are a number of limiting problems. The headlines are built as images, for example, so can’t be tweaked. Changing the text is a bit bewildering and I have to write code that sometimes goes wrong. Not to mention adding buttons at the bottom and making the “maps” fit. I also want to make the blog and twitter feed part of the new site – and who knows what else in the future?

As with many things, I’m going to be doing this experientially, and for as little as possible. I’ll keep you informed of my progress when relevant.

To begin, I’ve decided to build the new website using wordpress. Everyone raves about wordpress, and I’m vaguely familiar with it through writing this and other blogs. I’ve also decided to create the new site on my computer, rather than “live” on the Internet, for which I needed some software called MAMP. Getting these two things to talk to each other, even with YouTube video walk-throughs, was not entirely straightforward, so I also put a call into Luke from project1p (who is now exchanging website design for money) and now I’m in a position to start.

It’s going to be raining for a few days, so you shouldn’t have to wait too long before you see more. But I can’t show you too much, or it wouldn’t be part of the Longest Teaser Campaign in History.

We’ve been thinking.