Saturday 8 September 2012

Lime Plastering

One of the things we were looking forward to on this last trip was lime plastering, but we didn't realise quite how enthusiastically we would get into it!

We'd booked ourselves on to a short lime plastering course about two hours north of OrchardyHaven, on the shores of Lake Hancza, famous for being the deepest lake in Poland.

Jezioro Hancza The straw bale house
Lime plastering on cob wall Clay plastering inside

We were interested in Lime Plastering for various reasons:
  1. Lime plaster is a traditional natural finish that breathes and has various other useful properties (see e.g. here);
  2. Our property was built using lime, so we want to keep the tradition and learn more about the material;
  3. We wanted to find out where we could obtain quicklime or natural hydraulic lime (NHL) in Poland;
  4. and we really wanted to meet Paulina Wojciechowska, the pioneer of straw bale building in North East Poland (she built the house we visited on our honeymoon).
It was really good to go for these two days in PrzeĊ‚omka. We did meet Paulina and her partner Jarema, we saw 15 people from all over the world happily camping and working together in difficult conditions, and we got some hands-on experience, although we didn't find out how to get hold of good lime.

This experience made us eager to get back to work on our own place, and thanks to Jarema's encouragement we fixed the roof on the goat shed and got on with plastering the inside walls. Andrew joined us at this time, and despite pushing him to work so hard he quickly started talking about forming the OrchardyHaven Lime Appreciation Society! While I was stuck on the roof a lot of the time, Andrew really knuckled down to the plastering job and we got two coats on each of the three outside walls - pretty good for people with such little plastering experience as us. 

Getting free sand from the quarry 500m away :-)
After a sweltering first week it started to rain - a lot! End wall plastered though...
Working on the roof
Testing lime plaster outside
The finished roof, just needs tiling next year 
Lots more notes could go in here: 
  1. The sand was sharp but really fine - probably too fine for mortar or render. We didn't clean the sand either - potentially more testing and experimenting to do;
  2. We used builder's (hydrated) lime, easily available from any of the local farmers/builders suppliers. We did find that Kerakoll has a Polish branch that appears to sell NHL, but we didn't manage to chase them up and find any local suppliers. We added our lime to water and left it for at least 24hrs as recommended. We mixed the resulting 'putty' with sand 1:3 and after a few minutes looking far to dry it suddenly transformed into a really sloppy mix, although usable. We found that we could still use it even three days after making it.
  3. I also made a lime wash on the last day, mainly to treat our apple trees where I had to do some emergency pruning in August (last October seemed to early for pruning and Easter seemed too late, but I don't know when I'll be there at the right time so I just went ahead and pruned three trees). This was quite strange - really watery as it was painted on, then turning bright white after a minute - I realised I had made whitewash... :-)
  4. Most of our plastering was on the inside of the goat shed, but at the end there was some left and I tried it outside - on concrete blocks a) in a sheltered south-facing spot under the overhang of the barn roof and b) in a more exposed east-facing spot on the gable end (where I also forgot to wet the wall before applying the render). These are experiments to see how the plaster holds up over the Polish winter.
  5. The roof: most of the timbers were damaged by woodworm but after we cleaned them up they still seemed to be strong enough - we pressure washed them and spent quite a while stripping the rest of the bark (under 80% of the bark there were woodworm, stripped wood was mainly untouched); we put a breathable waterproof membrane on top of the rafters and purlins, and then 3cm thick spruce planks from our neighbour's sawmill butted side-by-side over this; we searched for second-hand tiles, but they were too far away and we didn't have time - we'll find some next year to complete the roof but it's easily strong enough to last through this winter. 
  6. As you can see from the last photo I built some benches too, from off-cuts from the roof - finally somewhere to sit down (other than the toilet) - what a relief!

Thursday 6 September 2012

"The best toilet ever"

We've been back in Wakefield for a couple of weeks now and we're finally getting everything back under control in the garden and allotment here, and at home... So finally managing to do some updating on the website :-)

This is just a quickie - we have lots more to add soon. We have finally finished our tree bog! Yay!

Here's a photo collage of its construction: (L-R top) starting with stripping some roundwood poles for the legs; then finding a site; bringing in some old deski (waney-edged boards) Kasia's brother gave us; putting the frame together; the floor and the beginning of the walls; (bottom and middle) a closer view; Andrew helping out; as it was when we left at Easter, in bare space beside the barn; me putting the roof on; back and side walls and roof complete; me and Maia, but no steps yet; Maia happy with work so far; Kasia on steps of completed tree bog next to new flower bed :-)

We started this last October, did a couple of days at Easter, then finished in a couple of days this August. Probably 6-7 days work altogether, but as this kind of construction was all new to us and we made life harder by using curved roundwood poles I'm quite happy.

In the end it was a great sheltered cool place to sit - and very satisfying to use too... But don't just take our word for it - our volunteer/visitor Maggi from Venezuela said it was the best toilet she'd ever used!

Oh, I should add some technical information. It's called a tree bog because the trees around it accelerate the composting with their roots, so it should never need to be emptied. The exemplar tree bog has willow planted around it which is coppiced regularly and we did try to plant some willow but we came back to England and there was a long dry spell so the canes never took root. There are plum trees and sycamores and a large willow and a small oak around the back and sides that should do the job ok.

We got the inspiration from Permaculture Magazine and Living Woods Magazine.

Thursday 19 July 2012

Strawbale 'wrap'

During an unexpected, and mostly unwelcome, morning at home, I have managed to come across a couple of useful bits of information online:

I received an invitation via Barbara Jones of Straw Works to a volunteer week in Bridport helping with a conversion of an old bugalow with a straw-bale 'wrap' (cladding) and a load-bearing straw bale extension. The project's blog is at It would be great to go to join in, both because it's just what we want to do in OrchardyHaven and because I spend many happy days as a child in Bridport, but we'll be away...

Then I came across Kuba Wihan's name again, as the leader of the volunteer week, from Straw Works. I did a little research into who he was and found his website where there is another great looking project where an old building was wrapped in straw bales for insulation (see this link and also the pdf of pictures here).

Saturday 2 June 2012

Earth Hands and Houses

We're looking forward to meeting a couple of local straw bale builders when we go to Poland this summer. We've booked a place on the clay plastering workshop in Przelomka, 27-29 July, and we may go on the lime plastering workshop afterwards too... If you're interested, there's more info at the bottom of this page.

Paulina built the first straw bale house in North East Poland (as far as we know), and we have a small personal connection because we spent the first night of our honeymoon in the little house in Przelomka.

The first straw house in Przelomka 

I was there :)

We'll be interested to meet Paulina and Jarema, to practice some clay plastering and to find out more about the realities of building with straw in Poland and working with the local planners and building regulations.

And who knows, maybe one of the future workshops will be here at Orchardy Haven...

Thursday 17 May 2012

What is Orchardy Haven?

This is an important thing that I've been needing to write down for a long time, and Phil and Andrew kept on asking for a concise description. Well here is draft one, and this is about as concise as it can be for now - it may get simpler later. Any comments appreciated.

Orchardy Haven is an experiment in sustainable and eco-friendly living and learning. It is an 8ha neglected old farm in north east Poland, purchased in September 2011. There are several aspects to the project:

    image from of someone picking pears from a tree
  1. To convert the dilapidated farm house to an eco-house.
  2. To grow food and other useful crops on the surrounding land using the principles of forest gardening and permaculture.
  3. To involve friends and volunteers creatively in the whole process.
  4. To embody a culture of open learning: we're learning, we're inviting others to learn with us, and we can teach and be taught by the people who come and interact with us.
  5. To develop the barns to provide volunteer/visitor accommodation, craft workshop facilities, and to meet the needs of the farm.
  6. To create a ceramics workshop and other facilities for traditional crafts.
  7. To build on opportunities that come out of these activities and our other skills to provide financial sustainability for the farm and our family.
Obviously the financial sustainability of the whole thing is a big leap, but it is possible and we'll just have to have a go at it. For now we can't even afford to move there, so it's going to be a while before it's all up and running.

One question Andrew asked was whether there was a conflict between inviting volunteers to help us and trying to make a living for ourselves on the farm. We don't think that is a conflict. There are lots of organic farms that have WWOOFers, and we ourselves have been volunteering in various places where our hosts need to make a living. We think being able to volunteer on a project like this is a great opportunity and is all about sharing knowledge and experience and giving people a chance to go out and get a place of their own to farm...

Easter 2012 tourist visit...

So it's now a month since we got back and there hardly seems to have been time to spend on pleasure and future projects like posting on here. Of course it's always a pleasure spending time looking after Maia who's now 9 months old and already seems much more like a little girl than a baby - but she doesn't give us much time for extras.

Anyway, me and Andrew and Phil flew to Vilnius in Lithuania which is closer than Warsaw, plus we managed to get cheaper flights. It was great to be in Vilnius and we spent two days sightseeing - an uncommon pleasure for our visits to Poland. Part of the deal with Andrew and Phil was for them to comment on whether travelling to our rural corner of Poland could have an appeal to more ordinary travellers, and not only to keen eco-builders and permaculturists.

Phil only had a few days around OrchardyHaven but we did manage to explore the local town and library, and we went on a tour to the source of the Biebrza river and near the border of Belarus. There is all sorts of history here, and the Biebrza National Park is the biggest in Poland. The places we went aren't very touristy though - in fact it's not well set up for tourists yet...

View Our driving tour from Suchodolina in a larger map

In Lipsk we did find a well made camping and picnic area and an old bit of Polish WWII artillery over the road which pleased Phil. Then on the way back we took a detour to an agroturystyka (rural tourist accommodation) in Hamulka where they've done a great conversion of an old chata (small wooden hut) into a really comfortable place to stay. In fact we had our wedding reception in the barn there and they have other facilities for making traditional cakes called sekacz (see picture), having bonfires and rafting on the river. Click on the image or here for their website.

Photo of modernised old Polish cottage

We also found this old ruined windmill on the way which was very photogenic:

After Phil left we explored Bialystok (the regional capital) a bit, enjoyed the traditional Easter celebrations with the family, and visited Augustow (the most touristy local town).

Despite the fact that there were no cafes to be found for many miles (except Bialystok and Augustow), Phil and Andrew both say the enjoyed their visit. It is a beautiful spot we've found, although there's a lot of work to do. I'll have more details of the work we did in my next post.

Thursday 9 February 2012

We'll be visiting again at Easter

Winter walking round Wakefield
Yay, tickets are booked and we're on our way back to our land this Easter for two weeks. Sadly the we doesn't include Kasia or Maia this time, but I do have a couple of friends coming with me so it should be a good trip anyway - we'll be looking for some live folk music!

Most of my time over the last few months has been taken up with family life. Kasia's started working Tues-Thurs (and other days sometimes) so I get to look after Maia all this time which has been great for both of us I think. I've been singing to her so much I've ended up joining a choir, the Merrie City Singers. This will be good in those dark isolated Polish winter nights when we have to create our own entertainment...

I've also been doing quite a lot of shelf building, decorating and other bits of DIY and being a handyman. Managing to pay the rent and bills at least and get some good practice in for building our new house.

A slightly more interesting project has been making some flyers and a website for an arts festival in Frome called Celebrate Women ( for my friend Linda King.

Hopefully will get on with more research for OrchardyHaven soon and I'll post it on here.