Friday, 29 May 2009

Duck steps

Exposed roots on the way down to the poolThere was a bit of a duck population explosion a few years ago (from three to 10 or so ducks) at Chris Dixon's. The increase in duck feet meant that the soil on their regular route down to the pool had been eroded and the tree roots steadily exposed. On top of this, the change in weather patterns over the recent years has increased the occurrence of sudden downpours of rain. The huge quantities of water hurtle down the stream (raising the level of the water) and causes further damage to the banks.

PondAll in all, the instability of banks had been playing on Chris’s mind. He had experimented with using bundles of long thin lengths of wood (he called them fascines) and laying the fascines on contour across the slopes so that any leaf litter, twigs etc would get caught behind and create steps/areas where plants could eventually grow. You can see Chris’s work on the left of the picture (the duck house is at the top of the slope). Our job was to add the fascines to the slope on the right (the fascines are already layed in place) and create steps for the ducks to take a different route down to the pool.

Chris had already made up a good supply of fascines and had identified a willow that we could take lengths of wood off to make stakes to keep the fascines in place. The rest was straightforward really, but it took us all of the day to lay and secure the fascines and weave a stairway banister/barrier for the ducks.

Newly created stepsThe next day we needed more wood and stakes to make the steps down to the pool and generally finish off. It was great to have the right kind of wood just growing on site (we took more from the willow used the day before). I wove the steps while Craig (Transition House) ferried well-rotted compost from another part of the garden to fill in the steps. The infilled steps covered the worst of the exposed roots.

Mac (the dog) hung around with us for the two days. She thought it was great fun to help us move the sticks, although they always end up rather chewed (we resorted in the end to hiding the pieces we needed in the duck house).

Apparently the ducks have taken to the steps like ... ducks to steps. Actually Chris assures me they're doing pretty well. I'm pleased.

Just so that you know, Chris is now back to just three ducks (the others have been rehomed). The small number of ducks is not causing further erosion, so the banks should be able to recover.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Comfrey day

Tuesday, the first day volunteering at Chris Dixon’s. We hadn’t really discussed what I’d be doing, only that it needed to be something that I could get on with on my own. Craig (Transition House) was at CAT attending a thesis module for his masters.

(Oh, the reason I was volunteering is on Craig’s blog)

It was a gorgeous sunny day, a good day for working outside. After a cup of tea, Chris explained that his comfrey needed sorting out and asked if I’d be happy to do that. Of course I was.

Comfrey bed beforeChris’s comfrey bed is next to his polytunnel, in the enclosed formal productive garden (by formal I suppose I mean more allotment style garden as opposed to food forest). The gates to this area are kept shut for most of the time (as far as I could tell), which meant that I couldn't be distracted too much by Mac (the dog) and Scamp (the lamb (that kind of thought she was a dog because she’d had been reared in the house)). It also meant that because Chris’s khaki campbell duck slug patrol unit do such a good job at eating slugs outside of this area, it’s worth scooping up any slugs found within the fencing and giving them to the ducks (I didn’t find any slugs).

Chris makes a liquid feed for his vegetable and fruit garden from the comfrey plants (the feed of course needs to be diluted before it’s applied). The latest crop of comfrey plants were big enough to transfer into the comfrey barrel for fermenting into the liquid feed, but before that could be done, a few things had to be tackled first.
  1. Take out the buttercups, wild raspberry and other “weeds” from the comfrey patch.

  2. Trim the surrounding hedge

  3. Add the “weeds” and hedge cuttings to the causeway (water slowing and filtration system, more about that later)

  4. Empty the comfrey barrel of the last batch of liquid feed

  5. Take the old comfrey leaves out of the barrel.

  6. Add the fermented comfrey leaves to the compost

  7. Straighten the barrel (it was sitting a bit on the wonk).

  8. There are two things to know about comfrey, the first is that some people have a slight reaction to handling the plant (where it touches the skin it can bring you out in a rash), the second is that fermenting comfrey leaves smell, I mean really smell.

    So on this sunny day, I kept my long-sleeved hoodie on. Which was probably a good idea anyway. And I tried my best to keep my distance from the stinky comfrey.

    Thankfully when I got to step 5, Chris was on hand to help empty the barrel. Boy did those leaves smell! Probably Chris reckoned five seasons worth of plants. Blimey! – I stayed up wind as Chris pitched his fork into the barrel and heaved the soggy, stinky mass out and into the wheelbarrow. The top of the barrel was almost at shoulder height; Chris did really well not to get any of the contents on his clothing. I was really glad that he was doing this, if I was doing it, I just know I’d end up smelling of old comfrey for the rest of the day.

    Lunch was great, a fried duck egg and probably the best salad I’ve ever eaten all straight from the garden, it was also a good time to chat with Chris and Lynn (I’d also taken Chris up on every tea break he had offered as I wanted to talk about permaculture design with him as much as possible).

    After lunch:

  9. Cut the comfrey crop and fill the barrel

  10. Place cardboard along the poly-tunnel edge for extra weed protection

  11. Cover cardboard with straw

  12. Plant extra comfrey plants to fill in any gaps

  13. Mulch the comfrey crop with horse manure

  14. Tidy

Comfrey bed after. Note the now upright barrel to the left and the bed full of onions now visible in the middle distanceJob done.

It was a good piece of work to do as it was completed in the day. Excellent job satisfaction. I know that Chris was pleased with the work, which makes it even better.

At some point during the day, I think it was as we were emptying the smelly leaves from the barrel, I commented to Chris that Craig (Transition House) would be disappointed not to be here. I think Chris thought I was joking, but I was serious, and I was right. Pretty much as soon as we got home, we made our own comfrey bed, see Craig’s blog. Fab.

Thanks Chris for all the excellent tips and for providing us with the plants to divide to make the new bed.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Don't leave it to the last minute

The last few hours have been quite intense, but I've done it, with a day to spare. I've writen all the comments I can think of about my council's Local Development Framework Core Strategy and Issues document (nice title).

Blimey that was a huge document. Not surprising really as it sets out how the council will develop the district over the next 15-20 years. 15- 20 years! I felt it was important to try and influence the process in my own little way. I won't bore you with the details of my response, but it included peak oil (can you believe there was no mention of that in the document at all!), green dragon standards, the Happy Planet Index (in relation to measuring economic growth), leading the way in feed in tariffs, to name just a few.

What a way to spend a bank-holiday afternoon, but hey, the sun wasn't shining (much).

All councils in the UK are creating a similar documents at the moment, so if your council is still in that "consultation" phase, I urgently whisper to you that if you have things to say about how you want your city/town/village to look in the future, find that document now and submit your comments about it. After all once it's written, it's going to take an awful lot of persuading (almost impossible?) to get them to change it until the next consultation in 20 years time.

Democracy. You've got to stand up and be counted in order to say "I told you so!" I hope that isn't the case in this instance. If they only take on board one of the things I said, it will be worth the effort this afternoon.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Kettle on, cuppa, teabags, oh

I love visiting the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Wales, there is always something new to see, and of course there is their shop. I know, I can shop online, but nothing quite beats flicking through new books. So when Craig (Transition House) said he had to go to a thesis workshop at CAT for his MSc, I jumped at the opportunity to join him for the week.

Initially we thought that Craig would need to be at CAT all day everyday (he was going to attend the straw bale building modulebut in the end he was just there for just over a day (he’s postponed the module)), so I arranged to volunteer to work with Chris Dixon at his permaculture holding at Tir Penrhos Isaf. You might recognise his name. Chris has recently featured on BBC2’s Natural World program - A Farm for the Future – more about my experience at Tir Penrhos Isaf in later posts.

Bluebell wood WalesWe rented a small cottage for the week that had spectacular views across the Dyfi valley and a gorgeous bluebell wood just along the lane. First impressions were good, small glass and metal recycling boxes outside, paper and plastic recycling bins inside. Fantastic. Kettle on, cuppa, teabags, oh… What do I do with this then? I spent the next few minutes walking around while balancing a spent tea bag on a teaspoon, trying to find a compost bin. Bokashi bin in the cupboards? No. It had to go into the landfill bin. I have to say, that was a very odd experience. I can’t remember the last time I’d put compostable waste into bin destined for landfill (I managed to persuade the caretakers at work to give me space for the “team worms” – the wormery behind the bike shed – ages ago). It was surprising just how easily the small green changes at home and work had been incorporated into my life and that not recycling just felt alien and wrong.

I’m not going to even get started on the light bulbs or heating, suffice to say, I'd have thought that even if a small business isn’t particularly environmentally minded, the money saving aspects of energy saving light bulbs and thermostat controls would be a no-brainer.

There, I’m done.

We did have a loverly time (we kept passing the bus to Bangor, but no, we didn't go).

The bargains I picked up at CAT were;

All interesting reads.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

'In Transition' film

"In Transition" is an hour long film about the worldwide Transition movement. It will premiere online at 1.45pm on the May 23rd - but there is nothing to see at that link yet...

For those of you not in the UK, here are the dates and times for your part of the world. I hope you can make it.

In the meantime here is the trailer.