Spent most of yesterday putting the joist frame for Peaseblossom together. Spot the silly mistake:

yurt joists

As with all of these constructions, there’s something that works really well and is deeply satisfying. Here’s an example of a four-way joint resting on an acacia post.

yurt joint

Those long, angled cuts take a while by hand. But are much easier since I started using a vise.

Todays it’s noggings and as much flooring as possible before some light rain forecast tomorrow. It’s going to be a bit of a week.

A quick update that’s too long for a tweet but too short for a blog post: The brasse of firewood from this post has nearly all been converted into heat and we just had another brasse delivered this morning. The wood would (ahem) have gone sooner, but the weather has been incredibly mild. So mild, spring flowers are beginning to appear. It’s also been annoyingly wet, so I haven’t been able to cut the dead-standing chestnut I’ve relied on in years gone by.

Yes, I feel like a failure. Yes, we’re €250 poorer. But we looked hard at the situation and decided being warm is a fundamental human need. And on a positive note, I can finally answer the question: “How long will a brasse of oak last if I live in a yurt in the southwest of France through a mild winter?”

Eight weeks.

While I’m here, I’d like to share a piece of news that will make some readers smile knowingly and others feel a bit weird. In this post, I said you’d be hearing a lot more about Transition from me this year. Two days ago (just 24 days after that post was written), Rob Hopkins – yes, the Rob Hopkins, who co-founded the Transition Movement – emailed me (!) to ask if I could write something for the Transition Network.

Very. Exciting.


We actually had a break over the mid-winter festival season which, as any athlete will tell you, means it takes a while to get back into shape. So we’re back on half days of manual and womanual labour for a few weeks.

While the weather is unusually cold in the US (future ref: Polar Vortex 2014), unusually wet and windy in the UK (future ref: Breezy in Blighty 2014), and unusually hot in Australia (future ref: Bloody Hot Here, Mate – You Probably Want to Get Yourself a Beer and Hide 2014), it’s been unusually mild here. Daytime weather this week is about 15C and sun, which is perfect for working outdoors.

Her Outdoors is moving manure and repairing raised veggie beds. I’m strimming and felling trees. More on all of this soon.

The wood I mentioned below arrived yesterday and looked like this (the pallet is mine, for scale):

brasse of wood

In volume terms, it’s one “brasse”, which is four “stère”, each stère being one cubic metre. It’s oak that’s been dried for a year and cut to 40cm lengths to fit our fire. When stacked, it looks like this (the wood’s on the right and is two rows deep):

wood stacked

With this small pile on the pallet, ‘cos I didn’t have time to rearrange the lefthand side of the wood store.

wood stacked 2

In financial terms, it was €250 cut and delivered. A friend told me he gets a brasse delivered by a local farmer for €160, but it’s mixed and has a lot of chestnut. (We’ve only just started burning oak and immediately found it lasts twice as long as chestnut and burns hotter, too.)

I’ll let you know how long it lasts. I’m hoping two months.

Lots going on at the moment.

Her Outdoors is doing Christmas markets most weekends. There are more stallholders than punters, which isn’t great. But the owls and moose are selling well.

I’m taking a break from working on the website (which is hard ‘cos it’s nearly finished) to learn 40-something mainly rock covers for the band I just joined. The first gig’s on Friday in Sarlat and I’m erring on the side of being over prepared, which should take care of the stage fright I used to suffer in my 20s.

The mayor dropped by the other day to talk about a few things, and invited me to join her team for next year’s elections. Which is an interesting turn of events. In exchange, she’s going to help raise the profile of écovallée. I’m making connections with various local tourist attractions anyway and it feels right to become more recognised in France as well as the UK.

The weather’s turning cold, which means thoughts turn to firewood.

Because I’ve been working this year, I haven’t had time to cut what we need. So I’m buying in some wood from the outside – €240 for four cubic metres of seasoned oak cut to 40cm. It’s our first winter fuel cost since 2008, so I can justify it using man maths. But I don’t know how long the wood will last and I’ll still need to find some dead standing for this year. They say this winter will be the coldest for 100 years, but they got the summer forecast completely wrong (thankfully – after a rainy start it was glorious and warm until November). With all the poison our atmosphere’s trying to deal with, I think it’s anyone’s guess.

Mushrooms didn’t really happen this year, which was a shame to put it mildly. I saw two parasol mushrooms and only a few field mushrooms, although I discovered a harmful-but-not-poisonous field-mushroom lookalike. (I didn’t eat it, but learnt to recognise it.) A friend found a lot of “Trompette de la mort” which we’ll have to look out for next year.

Sticking with nature, there are still plenty of leaves on the trees. The chestnut are almost bare, but the oak are grimly hanging onto theirs.

That’s all there’s time for now. More on all of this later…

log cutting bench

You may remember the log cutting bench on the left from this post last September (the wood shed in that post is currently empty and the experiment itself failed – the multiple log cutter collapsed on second use and I went back to the original bench).

I made the Mark I bench in a hurry in 2009 from some scrap wood and, like many quick fixes, it saw years more service than I would have thought.

But today I got around to making the Mark II, with a few design improvements that will be of interested to some of you:

  • The new bench is 80 cm wide, which allows for 40 cm cuts to fit the fire.
  • The middle support is centred, allowing for work from both sides.
  • The point at which the round wood crosses has been raised a few cm, which suits my height better and will ease strain on my back.
  • The upper horizontal braces have been dropped, so the saw won’t nibble them like it did on the old bench.

That’s the theory anyway. I haven’t actually used it yet and will let you know how it works out. Incidentally, the experiment from the other post was very labour saving and is still a good idea. But a portable, almost-free (it cost some nails and screws I already had) bench is still incredibly useful. You can put it together in a couple of hours and it will serve you well for years (or far longer).