First Six Years of the Garden

Year One in the Garden

We moved here in May 2013, into the cabin we built, and in the winter of 2014 we cleared about an acre of straggly pines, from a gentle south facing slope to the west of where we were renovating the old house.

Pines cleared for the garden, November 2013

Situating the garden was a big decision. We considered putting it closer to the house, which would have been more convenient, but it wasn’t feasible with all the building work going on. These pines were planted too close together and weren’t very healthy, but they had protected the soil beneath with a good layer of pine needles and other organic matter. There was a small creek the other side of the pines, which we thought we might be able to divert for water, but unfortunately it dried up after we cut down the trees and the soil was heavily compacted by the machinery. Since those early days we’ve learned a great deal about water management for the garden, mulching and improving the soil.

The situation of the garden has given us great pleasure – the views are amazing. In the winter of 2018, after we’d finally cleared the rubble from the house renovation we put in some salad beds and tomato trellises closer to the house. That was a good move as we were able to put in better soil and it’s easier to take care of the more tender plants.

In the summer of 2014, we began laying out terraces using the chestnut beams from the old house. We then covered the ground with straw for the winter.

West view, summer 2014
East view, summer 2014
South view, summer 2014

We had our first retreat in August 2014, with some great people and a lot of fun, including hay rolling from the field the other side of the house to the garden.

The hay-rolling race, August 2014

That first year we experimented with the Fukuoka method of natural farming. It was a near total failure. Perhaps it might work better in more fertile soil, or at least a garden that wasn’t already well-established with brambles and weeds. Anything that did sprout, was strangled or trampled before I could find it.

Our very first harvest was of knobbly carrots in September 2014, which was when we realized that our compacted clay soil needed some TLC.

Our very first crop of knobbly carrots, September 2014

Year Two in the Garden

Over the winter of 2014/15 we dug out the natural pool a bit more and began laying out the beds.

South view, with larger pool, February 2015

We also dug swales, in an attempt to keep more water in the soil. This was partly because we moved here in the wettest spring for 70 years! The track was a gushing wellie-deep river and the ground floor of the old house was flooded out. We were concerned about moving water away from the house and thought it would be a good idea to move it to the garden. So we dug ditches, put in drainage pipes and dug swales – then we had a drought.

It was somewhat gratifying to see the swales fill up in the spring of 2018, but we had a lot more work to do to keep sufficient water in the ground. We’ve lost too many young trees to drought. We’ve been off-grid since 2018, running on solar with a back-up generator and the system works really well, except for the fact that it’s a challenge to water the garden enough in the evening as the sun is going down. This year (2019) Dean put in a water tank that can be filled during the day, with a gravity feed water system for the garden that can be run anytime.

Full swale, March 2018

In 2015 we had broad beans, courgettes, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli and some potatoes. We would have had more potatoes and corn too, but the wild boar came and ate it all! After that, we had to fence in the garden to keep them out.

In the spring of 2015 we put in an asparagus bed and tasted our first asparagus in May 2018. Fresh asparagus, picked from the garden and tossed in a little oil and grilled, served with a sprinkle of salt, is nothing like you buy in a supermarket. In fact, all our home-grown really does taste better and is more satisfying.

Freshly picked asparagus

Year Three in the Garden

By 2016, I was beginning to think that I might have been a bit over-ambitious regarding the productivity of a food forest/permaculture garden. This was nothing like suburban gardening. The main tenet of permaculture is that you work less if you work with nature, and whilst that is true, the reality of it is entirely context dependent….and with clay soil, there is no avoiding hard graft. We love blackberries, but it took us two years to dig them out of the beds and they are still springing up all over the paths in between. As we are surrounded by woods and fields, there is never a shortage of opportunistic weeds. Yes, a weed is just another plant in the wrong place, but by the time we finished weeding one bed, the next one was smothered. The digging meditation is an excellent way to root out those unwanted suckers whenever they show – as above, so below!

We made the decision not to use manure, after realizing that I’d had enough of dealing with other people’s shit! It’s been a real challenge getting enough organic material in the soil, but I felt that using too much cow manure would upset the balance of the soil and bring in too many parasites. Although our yields were low initially, we have not had problems with parasites, bugs and slugs. We are now using indigenous microorganisms and just starting with biochar, and it’s working well. Technically, I would say our garden is a mix of organic polyculture and permaculture, not that it matters what you call it if it works!

Year three was the hardest year – lots of effort and not so much return. We decided to bring in some fresh energy with some summer volunteers.

Year Four in the Garden

Year four was more hard work, mulching, weeding and watering. The swales were not sufficient and we decided to test an exuding hose system. It worked well enough, but we needed to put in more lines. Getting more water to the garden was becoming a priority. We put a pump in the shallow well in the barn (that had been the only well water supply for the previous owners, the bucket and chain were still here) and ran a pipe to the garden. That well ran dry in August. 2016 was technically a drought here, with a relatively dry winter and spring and no rain at all in the summer. We needed a better solution, but it would have to wait for another year.

On the plus side, the volunteers that year were wonderful. Their work enabled us to catch up and even get ahead of the game, enjoy some excellent company and share the peace and beauty of this place with a lovely young couple. For them, the cabin and surroundings were the perfect getaway and space for intimacy, with each other and the land. They set the Greenwood Standard, that we ask of from prospective volunteers.

With the extra boost of energy, I fell in love with the garden again. We went into winter without a mess of weeds laughing in the wind! And Dean and Jacob set up the chicken run, so we could finally get chickens. (We can’t let the chickens free-range, as the dogs will kill them.)

Year Five in the Garden

More volunteers – also wonderful and now firm friends! This was the year we began to make real progress. The garden began to look like a garden, instead of a heart-wrenching effort to scratch some vegetables out of the earth. We began boxing off the downward side of the beds, so they would hold water more effectively and more weeding and mulching.

This was the year we got our greenhouse. And what a beauty it is, lovingly and creatively built by Marcus and Dean, using what we had left from the house, with purchased roof panels and rafters.

Our volunteers also collected seeds and set up a seed bank. Most of our vegetables are now from our own seed.

Salvage greenhouse

Year Six in the Garden

This year (2019) the garden is doing great! It’s providing us with almost all of our vegetables, everything except onions and potatoes. Potatoes are just a magnet for the wild boar and they are good and cheap to buy here. And onions just don’t do well in our soil.

I’ve started everything off in the greenhouse from our own seeds and planted out when the seedlings are strong enough. Sowing directly is still hit and miss and a bit of a waste of seeds and effort. But the greenhouse makes it all a pleasure. I can potter around when it’s cold and rainy and this year we had broad beans, cabbage, broccoli, beetroot and kale in spring. We’re eating lettuce, tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines, squash and garlic and I was able to give plants away. We’ll have fresh tomatoes through until early December, as some plants are in the greenhouse and frozen and dried all the way through to next summer. It’s August and I have kale, broccoli, cabbage and more beets in the greenhouse, ready to go out in a few weeks.

Striped aubergine that matures quickly
Garlic drying before being stored
Sweet corn
White fleshed peaches, planted in 2014
Second lot of beets this year (we love beets!)
Tomato trellises
Green tomatoes

The big project this year was the water tank and exuding hose irrigation for the garden. Dean got it finished by the end of May, just in time for the hot spell. It is a luxury. It’s a 10,000L tank and we have three water structuring disks in it to keep the water fresh. It means we can water the garden and run the dishwasher or have a shower at the same time – the kind of things you have to juggle when you’re off-grid. It’s also meant that I can begin to plant flowers around the house, as they need watering in the evening too.

Dean with the water tank for the garden

Of course, there’s always more to do, but I’m really happy with what we’ve learned and what we’ve achieved in six years!

Dreamcatcher Tomatoes

We finally got to put up the trellis for the tomatoes. We’ve wanted to get them closer to the house for a long time, but first we had to build the house and clear the rubble. That’s taken a few years.

We used abandoned yurt poles for the main supports and washing line, with a couple of hula hoops to make the trellis, because that’s what we had. the dreamcatcher weave is an easy way to make the trellis and it’s eye-catching too.

The boxed in beds have a mix of our own compost, forest mulch and biochar. We have cucumbers, aubergines and lettuce planted in between and I’ve just sown basil and nasturtiums. Not much to see yet, but they are growing fast and strong.

I’m using indigenous micro-organisms and chicken shit tea for fertilizer.

Bumper crop

This year (2019) was a bumper crop for tomatoes, despite a surprize hailstorm on 4th July that caused quite a bit of damage. I cut out the damaged stems and fruits and they just bounced back. The plants in the greenhouse will provide fresh tomatoes until the first frost, usually the last week of November or first week in December. I’m currently freezing and drying about a kilo of tomatoes a day and I expect that we’ll have enough to see us through until the first drop next year. That feels great, as I know exactly where these tomatoes have come from and that they’ve been grown without any chemicals and with structured water from our well.

In the past I’ve usually grown cherry tomatoes too, but I’ve come to the conclusion that they are a bit of a waste of space. We prefer big tasty, juicy tomatoes that we can eat in salads, use for cooking and dry for later. I started all the tomatoes from seed in a propagator box in the (unheated) greenhouse in mid- March. I’ve found that there’s nothing to be gained by starting them earlier, as they need the increasing light following the equinox to grow strong and healthy.

This year I sowed three types of tomato:

Corazon de Buey

The ‘ox heart’ is a Spanish heritage tomato – it’s big, juicy and delicious, with just the right balance of tart and sweet, firm-fleshed, few seeds and the best for salads.

The seeds germinated a bit later than the others, they like a bit more warmth and they were slow starters, but once they got going……

Mighty Corazon de Buey, just picked
Corazon de Buey tomato, sliced.

Mucha miel

Another Spanish heirloom variety, with a slightly ribbed, irregular shape and a rich sweet, flavour. It’s a large tomato, with attractive green stripes as it grows. Despite its size, it’s my favourite tomato for drying, as it isn’t quite as juicy as the others and dries just a bit quicker. – (This is important as an off-gridder.) The flavour intensifies when dried, especially with a bit of basil and we’ll have these with spring salads before next year’s new crop. It’s also a great salad tomato and is a prolific cropper.

Mucha miel and Rosa de Berne tomatoes

Rosa de Berne

Rosa de Berne is a Swiss heirloom tomato. It’s a great all-rounder, with a beautiful rose-pink colour and it’s really sweet and juicy. This is a very useful tomato as it is a heavy cropper and ripens early. It doesn’t have the acidity of the others, but it still tastes of tomato. In fact, all these tomatoes are intensely flavoursome.

This is a great tomato for cooking slightly and freezing for use in soups and stews in the winter, but will go nicely with salad too.

They are all winners!

Easy Five Star Chicken Coop

Greetings!

My name is Zubynelgenubi, Zubi to my friends. I’m a gallo piñeira and I’m the king of the five star chicken coop, that was made by my valet Mister D, following my instructions.

Zubynelgenubi

Mister D had a hard time finding a good design, one that would be relatively easy for him to make and that would meet the needs of me and the starlets. Mister D said that many of the designs on the internet either looked very pretty, like Dutch barns and New England houses, or like prisons. After much consultation, this is what we put together.

Chicken coop and run

The structure is made of waterproof board and the sheets were cut in half at the woodyard. That meant they could be fitted into the back of the truck easily. Mister D cut out the openings for the door at the front, the window, the side for the laying boxes and the larger door at the back. Mister D wanted to make the back door large enough so that he could clean out the coop easily. He then fixed the window flap and the door and attached the boards to the softwood battens, so that it could be fitted together in the pen.

We have a lovely large pen, with an open area and some woodland, with a secure fence around it. The fence is to keep the dogs and other predators out. There are foxes, wolves, weasels, stoats and wild boar around here. We also have a secure run with a roof on it attached to the coop. Mister D bolts the door on the run at night to keep us extra secure, but this way we can all come out and scratch around in the morning if he doesn’t get up on time to let us out. (You know, I do my best but sometimes I’m crowing for a good hour before we get let out. I wonder whether Mister D might be a bit deaf.)

We have flags and windmills around the pen – Matron calls it homestead hen party – but it is really to stop the young ones flying over the fence. It works most of the time, they see the flags flapping and the windmills whirring and it breaks their attention. We have had a couple of near misses, so I’m extra vigilant now. (This is before Mister D upgraded the coop.)

Homestead hen party

A key issue for us chickens is perches. We feel safe at night when we can perch above ground, as we still have the ancestral memories of roosting in trees to keep away from predators. Most chicken coops don’t have enough height, because we need to be able to jump up to the highest perch without banging our heads on the roof.

Our perches are made of natural wood fence posts – they are rounded and feel just like smooth logs. There’s two of them, which avoids aguements and gives me some peace in the house. They’re lovely and comfy to roost on. The nesting box is off to the side and gives the ladies some privacy when they go to pay the rent – two eggs a day.

Perches and nesting box in the chicken coop

These are two of my girls, Bridget and Blondie, out by the feeder. The feeding area is covered, to protect it from the rain. Mister D tried putting the feeder in the run once, but it attracted too many sparrows, who then couldn’t work out how to get out. We don’t mind sharing our food with sparrows and blackbirds, but we don’t want them in the house at night!

Bridget and Blondie at the feeder

We also have a cabbage swing, which is a lot of fun! That’s Blondie, Diana and Ginger you can see behind me – I am in charge of security as well and I’m not sure about that machine being pointed this way.

Zuby and the Starlets

We also have a beach hut. It was our first home and quite sweet, but not really big enough and it fell apart after the first year. It serves as another nesting option too, just in case some one needs extra privacy! The beach is where we have our dust baths, which is absolutely essential for our health and hygiene. Luckily, Mister D and Matron have a wood burning stove in the winter and they cook outside in the summer. Mister D then sieves the coal out and gives us lots of lovely wood ash. The tarp keeps it dry in the rain – come rain or shine we need our daily dust bath.

Zuby by the beach hut

I know lots of people don’t like to name their working animals, but it really makes life more enjoyable for us all. We are well aware of our place in the pecking order, so to speak, but a little bit of common courtesy goes a long way and it makes it much easier for us to communicate with you.

Salvage Greenhouse

DIY greenhouse from salvage

This was our first greenhouse effort:

Greenhouse wreckage

Several hundred euros, several hundred pieces to put together, eighty-five pages of instructions and fifteen minutes of wind!  Obviously way too suburban for our environment. We salvaged some bits of polycarbonate to make cold frames and the mice ate everything – now we have cats.

Next, we tried a walipini.  Walipinis don’t work in clay, with wet winters.  Most of the posts on the internet that show how cheap, efficient and easy walipinis are do not mention the need to consider your local environment and climate, especially amount of rain in the rainy season, very carefully. The walls collapsed and we’re now using it as a pit for rubble from the house build.

Finally, a greenhouse to be proud of, from Dean and Marcus “Rockstar” of the North:

Salvage greenhouse

It’s not completely salvage, we bought the corrugated polyester and acrylic for the windows and the roof rafters. but the rest is made from leftover wood from other projects.  The front pillars are chestnut, leftover from the house.  We would not have been so ambitious as to use them ourselves, but Marcus said: what do you think about using those beams on the front?  It will be beautiful.  And it is.  The doors are salvaged from a collapsed yurt.

The first stage of the project was to rebuild the stone wall next to the barn.  It collapsed in a storm a couple of winters ago.  It happened just as we were contemplating going off-grid and the only bit of the wall that collapsed was right next to the electricity meter.  It was a huge mess.

Fallen wall

There wasn’t much space to work with and we were concerned that the foundation of the wall and the barn had been weakened by the electricity pillar – the wall was very unsteady.  So Marcus put in a buttress, using all the old stones and lime mortar.  It was his first stone wall and by the time he’d finished he could pick the perfect stone for each place just by instinct.

Rebuilding the stone wall

The part sticking out from the barn is an old bread oven, with the access in the barn – there are people around here that still use outside bread ovens – and a well.  The well in the barn was the only water for the house when we moved here, with a bucket on a chain.  We had originally thought about putting a separate roof over the bread oven and well and joining it to the green house, but Dean and Marcus decided that a single roof would be much better and we can’t use the bread oven anyway, as all our winter wood is in the barn.  We use the well in the barn for the garden, as it is shallow and doesn’t take as much electricity to run the pump as the deep well, but it also goes dry towards the end of summer, so we have to work on another irrigation system for the garden this winter.

Greenhouse beginnings

So, the frame went up:

The roof went on:

Greenhouse roof

And the windows in.

Greenhouse from the front

The greenhouse is well-sheltered.  It is on the north side of the wall, but open to the west and shaded by an oak tree in the summer.  Two of the windows open for ventilation, as we seem to go from cool to hot very quickly.  Spring is very short these days. My aim is to use it to get seedlings started earlier, although it is currently home to tomatoes that I repotted from the garden.  It’s December and we still have fresh tomatoes!  We have a small butane heater which we’ll use when the nights get colder.

Greenhouse bed in winter, with coriander, beets and artichokes

With love and thanks to Marcus and Miriam.

At the bus stop

Water Management and Dealing with Your Own Shit

Enough of everyone else’s shit yet?

The first year here, our neighbour farmer dumped a trailer load of cow manure on the garden, when I wasn’t around, and told my husband that I asked for it! Well, that was an error of communication, but it really brought it home to me in the most graphic way: I had to be really clear that I wasn’t going to take anyone else’s shit anymore. I have plenty enough of my own. The technical term is ‘humanure.’

SIGNS OF CORRECTION

Within four hours of my having written, “I wasn’t going to take anyone else’s shit anymore” a dear friend posted this on Facebook.

When you’ve had enough of everyone else’s shit.

Now, I haven’t spoken with this friend in a few months and I hadn’t planned on writing about the farmer dumping the cow manure. This friend does not follow the Sophianic Narrative either, although he is a sovereign individual and lives a natural lifestyle. So what did this little ‘coincidence’ signify to me? It’s PAM banging on the drum of the endopsyche – don’t you feel it too? Haven’t you had enough of this shit?

Sophia has agency. She’s had it since the summer of 2016. This means She is using all means available to get your attention – it doesn’t matter to Her whether you know She exists or not; you are still one of Her children. For those of us in PT, She’s having a bit of fun, showing that She can play with the search engines. She can eliminate the xenosh and their collaborators at any time, of course, but our wise and generous mother is giving us the opportunity to participate in that pleasure with Her and that necessitates refusing to take on other people’s shit and dealing with your own.

mulching

The first principle of Heathen Permaculture, as I defined it is: feed the soil. But what do you feed a goddess? Obviously, She eats anything, the earth is a closed system and everything is ultimately recycled, but some things are clearly more beneficial to the garden than others.

So, that leads right back to dealing with your own shit. We do that quite literally here. All our ‘humanure’ goes on the garden, along with waste from the chicken coop and all our vegetable peelings etc. (after they’ve been composted for a year or so). Some one told us that the best way to make a bed was to dig the top layer of topsoil away and put in a layer of straw and a layer of compost, then put the topsoil back. We’ve done that on a couple of beds this winter and have just planted potatoes and brassicas.

I’m not saying compost toilets and ‘humanure’ for everyone, but it is what we need to do to live here and it’s really not so bad.  Flushing toilets seem quite strange to me now. We have compost toilets and a tree-bog (the loo with a view), no flushing toilets, no municipal sewage. (We have a reed bed for grey water.) And it’s quite obvious how dealing with your own shit has benefits.  I just noticed that the asparagus is coming up already!

Tree bog – known as: the loo with a view

Our indoor compost toilet

The soil looks good this year, finally. It’s taken four years, to get to the point where we are growing around half of all our vegetables and that will increase now we know more about what works and what doesn’t. I feel that it’s paid off taking it slowly and not giving the soil ‘indigestion’ by making improvements too rapidly. A friend nearby got his soil to what seemed like a perfect state within two years, but then the mice moved in to that lovely soft, rich warm soil and ate everything. He still hasn’t got rid of them. In using our own waste to feed the earth, we have moved at the right pace for the biochemical relationship between us and the soil to develop; we are giving the soil all the information and nutrients it needs, to give us exactly what we need in terms of medicine and nourishment.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates

We tried mulching with wood chips on several of the beds two years ago. They are good for weed suppression, but there’s no tree cutting company around here, so we had to go and get them from the wood yard. This was a lot of work and we ended up with lots of hard wood and it takes too long to break down. We will eventually use wood chips for the paths – after we’ve dug up all the brambles – but they didn’t really work on the beds.

Our main source of mulch is leaf mulch from the oak woods close by and grass cuttings in the spring and summer.

We started the garden in the winter of 2014, by clearing some straggly pines over about an acre, laying out beds and digging in ditches and swales and putting in a series of drainage pipes. This is after we cleared the trees and as we started laying out the beds with beams from the old house. We did a lot of digging.

Making the beds

I used to call the garden the ‘food forest’, rather optimistically. Four years later, it’s clear that what we are doing here is technically more organic polyculture than permaculture, but let’s not quibble over terms. Now, we just call it the garden – ‘la huerta’ as they say here.  We haven’t been able to work on the garden as much as we would have liked, we also had a house to build and retreats to run and it was a big help to have some volunteers last summer, but we are making steady progress.

water management: Swales, ditches and drainage

The year we moved here, in 2013, was said to be the wettest in 70 years. It rained torrentially, more or less continuously, from January to May. The track to our house was an ‘over-the-top-of-your-wellies’ river and the mud was relentless. As the soil here is clay, we put in a lot of effort over the following year, digging ditches and swales and putting in drainage, to prevent water-logging. Then we had very little rain, with drought conditions in much of Galicia for the next three years.

Last year was very hard on the garden, with a highly unusual late frost at the end of April, that wiped out the grapes, all our fruit and potatoes, followed by more drought. We lost quite a few trees too. We put in extruding hose, which worked quite well, but will need to be supplemented with water storage tanks, as we can’t run the water for the garden and water in the house at the same time (we are now off-grid). We were almost to the point of filling in the swales, as they were just filling up with weeds, when this year the rain returned. Two weeks ago the reservoirs were all 90% full, and it’s still raining. We have more than enough rain to get us through the summer now, but we really need the rain to stop so we can get out and do some planting.  This summer we will need to do some swale maintenance.

Still, what a joy it is to see our swales and drainage working properly. All that work finally paid off!

We put a drain across the track and this takes the run-off in a buried pipe 80M or so down to the pool. The rain from the green roof of the house joins this pipe and also goes to the pool, you can just see it to the left of the deck. The pool dried up completely last summer, although the summer before people were able to swim in it. If it dries up, that’s it, as we’re not going to pump water from the well into the pool.

Track drainage

Full pool

The swales are filled from a ditch across the brow of the hill and they are linked by drainage pipes that also go down to the other end of the pool.

Full swale

Swale overflow drain

The overflow from the pool goes to the little creek at the bottom of our property. One day, we’d like to clear the creek, to help it flow better, it’s really overgrown at the moment.

Creek

In completion with Matangi, March 2018

Our Cob House

Growing up in London, I never dreamed that I would be able to build our own house.  I always wanted to and used to draw pictures of houses and design little towns when I was a kid, but London is just too expensive for that to have ever become a reality there.  It’s also not the kind of place for my dream house.  My dream house had to come from the land.  It had to be made of natural materials and I really didn’t want neighbours.

We bought this place in March 2013.  No one had lived here for many years and the old house was falling down, which was just what we wanted.  The unpaved access road, which was a river when we first saw the house, kept other prospective buyers away.  It was daunting at first.  We don’t have any building skills, we don’t know the rules here and our Spanish is limited but we decided to go for it. Our plan was to build an eco-house, using local, natural materials and built by a true craftsman, Mateu Ortoneda.  In part, this was a reaction to living in London and the brutal ugliness of the city – yes, parts of London are beautiful and we enjoyed living there for many years, but it is mostly grey, concrete and kebab shop signs. I craved natural beauty, organic lines and I wanted to live in a house that felt as though it was part of the land, rather than an assault on it.

It took us a while to find architects and a builder, but if we’d have tried to do it all ourselves we would still be looking at a pile of rubble, and we started building in August 2014 and we moved in June 2016.  It was then down to us to install the kitchen and finish the bathrooms, which we completed in January 2017.   Of course, there are still finishing touches to be made, but as people around here say: when you finish your house, you die!

The house is mostly cob, made from clay dug from our land, straw from our land and local sand.  Apart from the stone work and slate roof on the stone part of the house, all the work was done by one man, Mateu, with occasional labouring help.  We have restored part of the house in original stone and kept to the original footprint (more or less).  The shape is the same as the original house, but the style is totally original. Everything has been made by hand on site, including all the beams, pillars and roof slates, all from local materials.

Not only is the house incredibly beautiful and unique, but there is something very special about seeing it grow out of the ground at a very human scale and pace.  This is a large house and it would have been much quicker to build a smaller one, but we always have visitors through the summer, so we went as large as our budget would allow.  Mateu says that houses should be built to the natural scale that emerges from two men working together.  I think he’s right on that because this creates proportions that feel right and generate a sense of well-being.  In an ideal world, we would have local builders working with local materials as valued and respected craftsmen, creating homes that enhance the lives of their residents and beautify the natural environment.

We also went off-grid in June, when we moved in.  Our original plan was to have solar energy with a grid tie-in.  However, new laws in Spain make it mandatory for all grid customers to have smart meters by 2018 and grid customers with solar systems are to be penalised – it is more expensive to have solar and grid than to have solar alone, with huge fines for non-compliance.  We didn’t build a healthy, ecological house to have our brains fried by a smart meter, so we had no choice but to find another way.  It was a great decision.  Much of the information on the internet is designed to put people off, to make you think that you will have to lead a primitive life and this is just not true, in our experience.

I would say that the places where building a house like this is not affordable to sane, intelligent people with some wherewithal about them, is probably not the kind of place those people would want to live anyway.  And, of course, not everyone would want to live in this kind of house either, but the curious thing is that I didn’t know that this was what I wanted either, until we moved here.  The biggest shift and the biggest effort was in getting out of our old lives in London, it was like pulling ourselves out of quicksand.  After that, it was a breeze, with a few mighty gusts to deal with now and then.  The cabal puts a lot of effort into making it seem as though it is impossible for you to follow your dream and, as the result, most people don’t have a dream.  Even fewer go on to realize that, in reality, the dream is dreaming them.  Once you realize that – well, that’s for another post.

Off-grid living

Off-grid set-up

We went off-grid this summer to escape electrical enslavement and to be able to participate in the transmutation of the species. Yes, that’s right.  It’s not about saving money, but about participating in the path of Correction that includes the transmutation of the human species.  More about that here: Energy and Transmutation.

We’ve run two retreats with up to 13 visitors and have had no problems, so far. The winter will be different, but we don’t have visitors then and we have a back-up generator. Our set-up includes 10 x 250w panels and a 48v battery reserve, with two inverters.

Solar panels
Solar panels

Batteries and inverters
Batteries and inverters

The biggest challenge for us, by far, was working out our needs. Eventually, we bought a monitor from Efergy, so that we could track the actual usage of appliances over a month or so. It’s impossible to work this out from the information provided by manufacturers. Using online calculators gave us a consumption figure of around four times more than we actually use and it would have made the system prohibitively expensive if we had gone with this.

Why go off-grid?

The decision for us was really simple: Spain has made it mandatory for every household to have a smart-meter by 2018. This might change, if Spain ever manages to elect a government that represents the interests of the people, but I’m not going to make my health and sanity subject to political fantasy. Smart meters are deadly. I posted about this a while back: Enslavement by smart meter and my position has only toughened up on this point. As I’ve decreased my exposure to the grid, the more I’ve come to realize how harmful electricity is – especially with regarding to weakening the willpower of anyone within its field.

Consider this:

Delgado’s experiments took place in the 1960s. He proved how an electrical stimulation to the bull’s brain via an implant caused the charging bull to turn to the right and trot away from the scientist in the ring. In a later experiment he caused the same bull to charge off a cliff. He then went onto prove how implants were not necessary and that behaviour could be modified through the use of low power pulsating magnetic fields. Smart meters produce low energy pulsating magnetic fields.

Controlling the behaviour of the majority of the human inhabitants of planet earth has been a wet-dream of the ruling cabal for quite a while and they’ve put in a lot of effort into making it a reality. Here is a brief summary of electromagnetic mind-control experiments over the past 50 years.

From the physical health perspective, it is undeniable that smart meters, wifi and dirty electricity are a huge contributing factor to most of the modern diseases we face.  For anyone who is able to view their life as something beyond their current bodily experience, EMF pollution is a disaster of epic proportions – but not insurmountable.

Transmutation originates from the Planetary Animal Mother and surviving the transition depends on how you live, not in what you read, think or say.

 

 

 

 

 

Water for the vegetable garden

Water for the Food Forest

2015 was an exceptionally hot and dry year here.  The 2014/15 winter was dry and the only rain we had until November was on our Beltane Retreat.  At one point in the summer we thought our deep well had run dry and we became very conscious of the water we were using. We are even more conscious of our water usage now, as we are going off-grid this summer and we aren’t on municipal water – we need to pump our own water.

I used to take water for granted when we lived in London, but water awareness was one of our first lessons here.  First, the well ran dry in the house we rented, even though the roof leaked into our bed when it rained!  Then when we moved here we had no water in the cabin for a month and that summer, 2013, the gravity well ran dry.  We had another month of driving 10 miles to fill up at the public font that brings water down from the mountains.  Many people in Spain still use mountain water for drinking that comes from the public fonts that are all over Spain.

The gravity well is our reserve well as it doesn’t need electricity to run.  It’s up the hill from the house and the cabin and we laid a pipe so it flows down the hill when we need it.  It’s all we had until we put in a deep well and it only ran dry because we lost a lot of water when we put in the pipe.  It just doesn’t have enough pressure to support all our needs when we have guests, or to water the garden.  So, last summer we opened up the other well that is in the barn.  This is about 15M deep, so we could put in a less powerful pump and the plan was to use that to water the food forest.  That well ran dry too!  The new plan is not to water the food forest.

Most farmers around here don’t irrigate their fields.  They grow potatoes, cabbages, pumpkins and corn and every year they plough in cow manure to get rid of weeds and keep in moisture.  We are not ploughing and we’re not using cow manure.  Cow manure is full of weed seeds and creates more work than benefits.  Our strategy involves swales, ditches, woodchips and trees.

The Lie of the Land

Our vegetable garden is on a gentle south facing slope.  Two years ago we cleared the straggly pines that were there there and began the process of laying out beds and terracing the slopes.  We had the use of a digger for the initial clearing and to lay out the old chestnut beams that were in the house to make the terraces.  The terraces are not formal and not dug out; we are just using the beams to support the downhill side of the beds as we slowly build them up over time with mulch and wood chips.  The aim is to retain rain water and minimize soil erosion from water running down the slope. We’ve done most of the rest of the work by hand, mostly just Dean and I, with a few hours here and there from various visitors.

We get around 100cm of rain in a year, which should be plenty to keep the garden growing throughout the year – if we can keep it in the ground!  The wettest months are November and March, but we can get showers throughout the year and cloudbursts in late summer.  This province, Lugo, is named after Lugo the Celtic god who wielded a spear of lightning.  Lughnasa, the first week of August (thereabouts) is when he brings lightening and thunderstorms to recharge the earth.  Lugh is a Bearer of the Grail.

Our soil is mineral rich, because no one has farmed here for generations.  Before the pines were planted about 20 years ago it would have been cleared pasture for cows and before that it would have been native oak and chestnut woods, that still exist in these parts.  If you turn your back for five minutes in a field around here, an oak tree will shoot up!  However, the soil is solid clay and without the pines providing shade and a constant supply of mulch, it turns to concrete in the summer when the sun beats down.  It’s a beautiful and sheltered location, but it’s very hard on seedlings.

Trees

We have planted about 50 fruit and nut trees so far.  We lost all the hazelnut trees last summer, as the hosepipe wouldn’t reach them, but all the other trees survived.  Mature trees are expert water managers.  A mature fruit tree can drink nearly 200L of water a day and our aim is to keep as much water in the soil as we can, so that we can minimize watering in the dry months.  It might take us a few years to get to that point, as the trees are still young and not rooted deeply enough, but that’s our aim.

Trees are intelligent beings.  You might not be able to hold a conversation with them, but that is just as true for many human creatures.  If you plant a tree in the right place and support it when young, with the minimum intervention, it will adjust its needs to whatever the Planetary Animal Mother provides.  So last year many of the trees dropped their leaves to conserve water because of the drought, but their roots were safe and they are already budding this year, after a mild wet winter.  Trees collect rain and transmit it into the soil.  It has been shown that broadleaved trees intercept blowing rain and conduct it down the branches and trunk to the soil.  The roots then provide a path which carries the rainwater into the deeper soil layers very quickly.  Our indigenous species like ash, alder, chestnut, willow, birch, oak, elm and many hedgerow shrubs are known to be particularly effective even in heavy clay soils, like ours.  Coniferous trees are less effective at catching rainwater.  Trees reduce flooding and prevent soil erosion, as well as providing shade and evening out the temperature extremes.

Ditches and Swales

Everyone knows what a ditch is and a swale looks like a ditch, except it runs across the contour of the land, rather than down it.  A ditch moves water away from where it’s not wanted and a swale retains water where it’s needed.

Swale diagram

 We are using a combination of ditches and swales, to move rain water away from a very waterlogged area and into the swales.  The swales hold more water than would stay on the surface and allow it to gradually percolate downhill below the topsoil, reducing evaporation and encouraging strong plant roots as they reach down for the water.

A full swale
A full swale

We have dug three rows of swales across the slope, fed by the ditch, so that the parts of the food forest that were dry now have water leeching below the surface.  Initially, we put old wood in the swales, as I’d read that the wood preserves the moisture and prevents more evaporation.  I thought it might mean less mosquitoes in summer too.  But the swales are so full that with the wood that they overflow all over the beds, so we are making adjustments.  It also encourages brambles to fill the swales, as they love old wood.  We will probably shore up the downhill side with planks over time, as this will prevent wood chips and mulch from filling the swales.

Mulching and wood chips

If you walk in the woods anywhere around here, the earth is protected by a thick mantle of rich, dark leaf mulch.  This is what the food forest was like before we cleared the trees, which stripped off and compacted the mulch layer.  Mama does not like to be seen naked, so the weeds then grow prolifically to cover the bare soil.  We laid thick layers of hay from the fields when they were cut, to keep the earth covered and some of the weeds away, but it doesn’t work as well for growing as wood chips and mulch, so we strip it away when we make the beds.  Hay works well to cover empty beds over winter, to keep them weed free and warm ready for planting in spring.  It tends to get fungus easily, so wood chips are better.  (But not all wood chips are equal – soft wood is much better for mulching.]

Mulching reduces evaporation so that the soil stays moist in summer.  You can mulch with almost any natural material that you can lay down in layers, like cardboard, old wool carpet or straw.  However, some materials take longer to break down than others, so if you want to plant shortly after mulching, wood chips are hard to beat.  We haven’t got all the beds covered yet.  There’s no tree-cutting service anywhere near us and Dean has to drive to the wood yard 10km away and load up the truck, then we have to wheelbarrow it into place.  It’s laborious, but the earth and the plants will thank us for it.

Our aim is to minimize our work in the garden and maximize our enjoyment and yield.  It’s a two hour job to water the garden with a hosepipe and when we go off-grid that means two hours of running the pump!  Working with nature to manage our water makes so much more sense.

Wasp Medicine

Attracting Wasp Venom

A couple of weeks ago, I disturbed a wasp nest.  Wasps attack immediately when they feel threatened and I was stung 10-15 times on my arm, hand and leg.  I couldn’t get away because of the long grass and brambles.  It didn’t hurt much initially, so I carried on working.  Then I started to feel a ferocious itching and burning in my groin, which I knew was lymph and I decided to head back to the cabin.  Before I got back my scalp, palms and the soles of my feet were on fire.  Within minutes my whole body was covered in a painful red rash and I jumped in the shower and turned on the cold water to try and give myself an adrenaline boost.  It didn’t seem to work.

Dean found an anti-histamine, which I was reluctant to take, but I could see he was worried.  By this time, my face was really swollen and the pain was intense.  I put me feet in a bucket of cold water and had Dean rub me all over with St John’s Wort oil to try and cool me down.  Then my throat started to close and Dean wanted to know if we needed to go to the hospital.  I had a moment of fear and thought: take me now or make this go away and the swelling in my throat began to ease and the pain became more bearable.  I was still nicely swollen two hours later when Claudius and Michelle showed up, but managed to get out of bed a bit later so we could go out to dinner.  It took several days for all the swelling to go completely.

Since then I’ve been wondering why I had such a strong reaction and why did I not want to take the anti-histamine?  I don’t like pharmaceuticals and consider them to be more harmful than beneficial in most cases, excepting emergencies; and this was an emergency.  I don’t think Sophia set up this experiment with the intention that we should succumb so easily to insect stings either, although poisons definitely have their place.  However, histamine is not a poison, it is a neurotransmitter, so why do we need to shut it off?

A neurotransmitter is a chemical that is released by neurons in the nervous system and crosses the synaptic gap between neurons, to be received by another neuron in order to generate a specific reaction. The constant stimulation of neurons causes reactions in the body which are specific to the type of neurotransmitter that is passed.  Histamine’s role is to produce an immediate inflammatory response as part of the immune system that comes into action when your body is under attack.  Histamine causes the blood vessels to swell, so that white cells can get to the problem area quickly, that sounds like a good thing.  Over-reaction, like mine, is considered to be the result of histamine intolerance, due to the body not being able to break down histamine properly.  We always have a small amount of histamine circulating in the body and when I was stung, more was released at the site of the the wasp stings, flooding my body.

The exact composition of wasp venom is unknown.  From the wasp’s perspective, it stings to paralyse other insects that it wants to eat, or to warn off larger animals like me.  Wasps have been around for longer than humans and they are very effective predators, see Wasp Warriors.  However, it is not the poison that causes the allergic reaction.  Wasp venom contains a protein enzyme called hyaluronidase, which speeds up the dispersion through the body of any injected substance, by reducing the viscosity of hyaluronic acid that cushions the cells and increasing tissue permeability.  (Yes, hyaluronidase is used to break down hyaluronic acid based cosmetic fillers after people have had too much of it pumped into their faces to make them look younger!)  My allergic reaction was caused by the combination of hyaluronidase and histamine, which generated a systemic inflammatory response and the anti-histamine probably helped in this situation.  Adrenaline also stops the production of histamine, which is why people who know they are highly allergic carry Epipens.

But why do I have too much histamine in my body?  There are many  foods that contain histamine (and these foods are often involved in food allergies) but my intolerance most likely stems from the fact that I was on Zantac for 25 years, because of a stomach ulcer.  Zantac/Ranitidene, like its cousins Tagamet and Pepcid is a histamine blocker.  It targets the H2 histamine receptors, which are found in the stomach lining, heart, uterus, vascular smooth muscle cells and white blood cells.  It stops these cells responding to histamine, so that there is no inflammatory response from food or drink that would normally cause irritation.  The body naturally responds by producing more histamine, causing a permanent overload.  In addition these drugs, and others, actually deplete the levels of diamine oxidase in the body, which is primarily responsible fro breaking down histamine in the digestive tract.  I weaned myself off Zantac in 2010 and have had no pain or bleeds since and I’m able to eat and drink more liberally than I ever was while on Zantac.  I now need to look into how to reduce my baseline histamine levels – more on that in another post.

Apparently, most people who get an allergic reaction to wasp stings do not get it for bee stings, or vice versa.  It’s one or the other, so that’s a relief!

Then, a year later, I was stung again on my hand, that swelled up like a ballon. It was only a couple of years later, when I was stung yet again – that I began to understand what this was about.

Histamine and Self-sabotage

The last time I was stung, was when I was obsessing about an unpleasant incident with some one, that I could do nothing about.  Some one that I had thought of as a friend (not a close friend, but some one I could meet up and have a chat with now and then) had turned against me, for no reason I could understand – because she wanted to, I guess.  It was later that night, when the histamine itch came on, that I realised how my unhappiness about this experience was involved in my histamine response.

It came over me in a cool gel-like rush.  What is often termed ‘histamine intolerance’ was, in this case at least, a conditioned physiological response to emotional drama.  Did it make any difference to the quality of my life whether this person liked me or not?  Not a jot.  It only made a difference if I gave my attention to it, as if I was at fault.  In that moment of realization the heat and itching stopped.

The histamine response and symptoms were very real, but I was causing them myself – and I also recognised it as a pattern inherited from my father, although he was unconscious of it.  It took three rounds of wasp stings before my mind/body system was able to process the biochemical/electrical influx in such a way as to be able to change the pattern.  The change happened of its own accord in the moment that my internal dialogue stopped.

Everything in nature is conspiring to help human creatures come to the realization of what we are doing and what we are capable of.  It might seem like a delusion to think that a wasp sting could be a good thing, until you come to know that the body never lies and through its secretions and electromagnetic signature it is always in communication with nature – our consciousness doesn’t see that because we have been entrained to focus on other things.  Once you get it, you begin to participate in the correction process that you, as an individual needs, to get you back on track. Sometimes the medicine hurts, but the learning never disappoints.

Natural pool update

We dug the natural pool in August last year, so that we could use the clay to build the house.  It is coming along nicely:

Pool-from-deck

IMG_2514

We made a sundeck out of local chestnut this spring, but it’s been to hot to sit out there.  We’ve had no rain for over six weeks and the water level goes down a couple of centimetres every day due to evaporation.  We are having to top the pool up every few days from the well.  We’re opening up the old well in the barn this week, to use for the garden and the pool, but we really need some rain now.

FINAL UPDATE 2019: after three years the pool dried up in the summer.  It’s full in winter, when we don’t need it and dry in summer when we’d like to use it.  We can’t fill it from our well, so it is now a wildlife pond.  LESSON: If you are going to build a natural pool, make sure you have a sufficient water supply to fill it in the summer!