Sunday, 21 December 2014

Spring is on the way!

Today is Yule, the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and the turning point of the year. In some traditions this is the beginning of the new year, as each day from now will get longer and lighter. We have our annual Yule gathering this evening and we'll light a fire and do our bit to keep the warmth and light going for the next cycle.

So it may seem a bit early to be thinking about Spring coming, but exactly three months from today, on the day of the Spring Equinox, we'll have moved to Poland. We fly out on 20 March. We've bought the tickets. We're packing already.

With this closeness comes a certain amount more trepidation, nervousness. People keep on asking difficult (silly?) questions like 'Is the house in Poland all sorted then?' (no, we haven't even demolished it, let alone started rebuilding, and we'll be basically camping for the next few years...).

After all the time spent planning and thinking and working on the permaculture plan, in one way I feel ready to move on and continue this work (and there's so much more to learn, so many details to work out, and now may be an ideal time to work on some of this while I'm still protected from the enormity of being there). On the other hand there's loads still to do here including work at the Night Shelter, Christmas preparations, looking after my mum, looking after Maia, sorting and sorting and sorting around the house, finding a lorry to move our stuff, recycling, giving things to friends, taking things to charity shops, selling what we can on eBay and Gumtree, minimising waste as much as possible...

It certainly seems like a leap of faith at the moment, and it's possible to be overwhelmed by it all.

But, we have an amazing dream, and it's really beginning to take shape. We get there at the cusp of Spring, the vernal equinox, also celebrated as the beginning of the new year in some traditions.

We know what we're doing when we get there (as I described at the end of the Update, September 2014 post), and we're ready for visitors from May. In fact our good friend Andrew is coming with us in March, but by May we should have water and other necessities in place on site to make visiting much more pleasant.

Soon we'll be working on a schedule, so there will be specific work weeks when we'll invite people to come and help out. We'll update this blog with those dates when we can.

Keep following us, and we hope to see you in Sadowo soon :-)

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Links and references from my talk at the Leeds Permaculture Network Social

All sorts of useful stuff here, if you're coming to my talk, if you came to it, or if you missed it...

Hyde Park Source (I first learned of permaculture back in 1997 through meeting Andy Goldring of the Permaculture Association when starting HP Source).

I also did my first PDC taught by Andy, Niels Corfield, Joanna Dornan and others in Leeds in 1997, and there will be another PDC coming up in the spring I expect. Go to the Permaculture Association website to find courses. is a great source of videos. I especially like the cell grazing, fishponds and biogas videos. You'll also find links and information there about any upcoming online PDCs.

Back again to the Permaculture Association - the best way of getting a copy of Permaculture, A Designer's Manual in the UK.

I've found some really useful articles and information on

How to use SketchUp and Google Earth to make a contour map: YouTube video (there are loads of resources out there. I managed from this, but it wasn't easy. Let me know if you find a better source.)

A few soil and compost links:
International perspectives (all sorts of things here, but just a few links):

Friday, 17 October 2014

I'm giving a talk at the Leeds Permaculture Network Social about the permaculture design I've done for our OrchardyHaven. 

Called 'Building on the Soil', the talk will focus on our strategies for building amazingly rich and productive soil that will in turn make an amazingly rich and productive food providing ecosystem for us to live in. 

I wish I'd said that on the flyer now... Anyway come if you can, it'll be great!

6.30pm, Thursday 6 November, at the Friends Meeting House, 188 Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, LS2 9DX

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Update, September 2014

So many things to update about... I'll try to keep this reasonably brief and readable.

1. I went to visit our land for three days back in May. I hadn't managed to get there since August 2012 - not for lack of desire. I really felt I needed to do some surveying, largely because of the need for establishing some waterworks on the land, partly because of some missing measurements around the house, but also because of the permaculture principle of observe and interact.

Our tree bog, March 2012 and May 2014
It was really an eye-opener. I really did need to get back on the land. I realised that although I'd walked round and round it several times, all the research and thinking I'd done had really changed the way I could see. The first thing I saw was the need for animals - firstly because it's such a big space and there's so much growth we need animals to help us manage it, otherwise we'll be forever scything - and secondly because the soil seems so poor and sandy we'll really need the animal manure to help rebuild it's fertility.

2. I've finished my Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) Course with Geoff Lawton and the Permaculture Research Institute in Australia. This was an amazing experience. I'd already done a PDC in Leeds in 2009, with loads of interactive sessions, creative groupwork, local visits, etc. I was initially a bit sceptical that an online course mainly presented in front of a whiteboard and based on the 25 year old Permaculture: A Designer's Manual could be really so good. Happily my worries proved unfounded, and by the end of the course I felt really well prepared and qualified for starting my more practical permaculture future (and hopefully career).

I'm open to sharing my design project, which is an initial permaculture design for OrchardyHaven, so get in touch if you want to see more, but the key image is this:

It starts with a swale on the longest highest contour, which is then followed by a new access track. There are swales on contour throughout the land, slowing and managing water. There are planned ponds (see my previous post), including one on the bottom right of the image near the high point of the land, fed from a new well with hopefully a wind or solar pump. This will give a water source with 9m of head pressure by the time it reaches our house and kitchen garden. There are loads of young dwarf mountain pine which don't seem very useful on our land except as filling for hugel beds where we'll be doing a lot of growing, especially vegetables and soft fruit but also a lot more hopefully. And it carries on this way down the hill... (I'm sure I'll post more on the other details later.)

3. With this kind of out of the way we've been planning in more detail what we'll be doing when we get there permanently. We won't be able to live on site straight away, but we'll be close. We can quite quickly get water supply sorted out. We have a pump and a well and a power source. We'll install a temporary tank on the wall above the well and plumb in an outdoor sink. We'll build a rocket stove for water heating and we've got loads of good dry fuel for it. Then we'll get to work on the Goat Shed: digging out, insulating and redoing the floor, insulating the roof and walls probably with straw, bringing in water and electricity supplies and building a rocket mass heater. There's enough space there to make it like a small home, and certainly a comfortable base for us and any volunteers to work on site.

By September 2015 we aim to have cleaned out the well properly, probably dug it deeper, capped it properly, and have an underground pipe running from it to the Goat Shed to avoid freezing in winter.

There's lots of work to be done building an outdoor shower and an outdoor kitchen for the hot summer months, getting the workshop into shape, etc. We'll probably aim to get underway on the main house building in the spring of 2016. Can we finish it in a year? It would be nice to think so but I guess it's more realistic to expect two years as we can't afford to pay builders to come in and do the work for us.

Ok, that'll do for now. Hopefully more soon.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Permaculture Designers in Action!

This is Béla Beke who's actively involved in loads of permaculture projects in Australia, but still a bit frustrated with the permaculture movement...

He wants more action! 'People don't feel the urgency,' he says. 'Many people are too comfortable in their own lives.' in his interview with Nicole Vosper on

It's inspiring to read about people who are so active and still want more. I looked at Béla's website and there are some really interesting things going on. 
For me, me life is going to depend on permaculture. I'm going out to the relative wilds of Eastern Poland with few chances of employment, and planning to put all my heart into creating a sustainable living environment for myself and my family. The urgency is certainly going to be there, especially with the threats of climate change and other worldwide problems hanging over us.

I hope in 16 years I'll be as actively involved in researching and learning and continuing to be as inspired by permaculture as Béla is. 

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Permaculture Design Course (PDC)

I've now started doing an online PDC. In the end I chose to do Geoff Lawton's one. This has had loads of great reviews, and is very international, so I think it will stand me in good stead when I start doing permaculture 'design and consultancy' (read, work with and help my neighbours) in Poland.

Last week was the introduction, and for anyone wondering I should mention the definition of permaculture. The simplest definition is:
Permaculture is a design system which supplies all our needs and benefits the environment.
Another useful definition is:
Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people — providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.
Permaculture works with complex ecosystems and habitats, including humans and their habitats at its core.

In order to supply all our needs and benefit the environment we need to capture and store energy at every opportunity - for example capturing water and keeping it in our system for as long as possible, capturing the warmth and energy of the sun in ponds, rocks, greenhouses and of course the plants and animals themselves.

I've been learning about permaculture off and on since I met Andy Goldring of the Permaculture Association back in 1997 so at this point in the course it's fairly familiar to me. There are still lots of good insights, and my favourite one so far is the definition of diversity that I've included in the graphic above.

Diversity links to lots of things in permaculture: for example we may want to use cows to help build the soil, chickens can also help in this process and if they go to an area after the cows they'll help process the manure and eat the pests that grow in it, then after the cows and chickens the land is really fertile and ready to grow lots of trees and shrubs and vegetables and herbs and flowers, some of these fix nitrogen in the soil, some of them work symbiotically with pollinating insects, some of them provide food for us or products for market, some of them provide shelter for other elements in the system, and so on and on. Many elements working together in 'complex' ways, storing energy in the system and reusing it again and again, stacking systems in space and time.

Two more principles of permaculture design:

  1. Each element should have many functions.
  2. Every function should be supported by more than one element.
This rich patterning that permaculture designs and implements creates resilience against potential changes in the future - changes in climate, changes in ecosystems, changes in economics, and changes in what we can buy as transport and plastics become more expensive.

I'm looking forward to reinforcing all my knowledge about these things, learning a lot, and really cementing it all in good practical design skills. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Straw Works, and the dangers of cement in building

On Wednesday I went to Todmorden for the day to learn first hand about some of the design details of straw bale buildings from local expert Barbara Jones of Straw Works.

It was a really good day and Barbara really showed her knowledge and experience - having worked as a carpenter and joiner since the early 80s and about 20 years of building with straw bales.

I've read her book of course but there were lots of little details that I appreciated, from the banal (but important for me) observation about 10mm graded gravel being excellent for drainage (in a capillary break) because of the gaps that are created between the individual stones, to the slip joint that Straw Works use to attach straw bale extensions to existing buildings.

Most of all I loved Barbara's little lecture about the dangers of cement in foundations (and buildings generally). It turns out that if you have a well made foundation - particularly one that's self-draining, breathable and flexible - then it doesn't have to be very big and it certainly doesn't need a damp proof course. Barbara stressed that having an impermeable plastic sheet (DPC) in the middle of your wall was a pretty bad idea, because any water in the wall is eventually going to drain down and collect on the plastic. In fact the main reason as far as she was concerned for having a DPC was to protect the house from inappropriate concrete foundations, as the concrete sucks in water and without the DPC it can then help to rot your walls or feed mould on your kitchen walls!

Lime is the saviour here, as it helps to manage moisture. I'm already a lime convert, but this added insight was very interesting. There are technical sheets available to download from the Straw Works website that include drawings of different cement- and DPC-free foundations, details for installing doors and windows, and roofing details.