Archive for September, 2013

Waterworks

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Our water supply on the quinta comes from a stream that runs through it, plus a couple of small springs. When we first moved onto the land we collected buckets from the waterfall, then graduated to hose-piping our water direct from the stream for household use and irrigation.

But 2012 changed all that. We had a very dry summer following 2 years of failure of the winter rains. After diminishing to a mere trickle in February, the water in the stream stopped altogether in late August (the village above us used it all), only starting again when the rains did. I installed a 1,000-litre plastic drinking water tank for our household needs, fed mostly by spring water, leaving the stream for limited irrigation. The vegetable garden coped surprisingly well thanks to a lot of mulch, but we lost all our water-hungry plants like squashes. It really focused my attention on how vulnerable we are to drought. Since then I’ve been planning to build in as much water storage as practicable, and collect water both from the stream and from roof rainwater catchment.

Surveying the quinta for the water distribution network

Surveying the quinta for the water distribution network

This summer, along with all the other projects under way, we’ve been putting in some water tanks. Work has been progressing on a small rainwater catchment system for the smaller of the two buildings here, and also on two much larger tanks which will form the main hubs of our water distribution network, supporting both domestic use and irrigation.

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A composting flush toilet

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

When I first started planning the infrastructure here, I intended throughout to use Joe Jenkins‘ dry composting toilet system. Beautifully simple and easy to construct and maintain, convenient and portable, no requirement to separate urine from fæces, and an efficient composting system designed for optimum thermophilic decomposition. It’s no wonder Jenkins’ toilets have been dubbed ‘Loveable Loos’. What’s not to like?

Outhouse toilet for the wee house

Many people though are surprisingly squeamish about dry toilets. When I came across Anna Edey’s experiments with vermicomposting in Massachusetts 18 years ago for processing sewerage out of a conventional flush toilet, described on the website promoting her book, I was intrigued. The fact that it coincided with us beginning renovations on an outhouse toilet for the wee house (designed to be guest accommodation) seemed fortuitous. The outhouse was ideally situated for it and putting in a composting flush toilet for the guest accommodation seemed like an excellent idea. When we then discovered a nice old ceramic flush toilet bowl still in one piece at the local dump, it seemed to be signalling the perfect opportunity to give this method a try. Edey’s website didn’t give full details, but there was enough information for me to work the rest out for myself.

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Catch the rain

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

With the addition of guttering to the roofs of the buildings we’re renovating, it’s always been the intention to catch and store the rainwater runoff. It’s at this time of year, when the land is parched and the stream down to its bare minimum, that a few thousand litres can make all the difference. The east side of the quinta furthest from the stream suffers the most. Here it’s so dry it’s been pointless trying to establish new plantings or even dream of growing annuals without installing some sort of irrigation to support them. Long-term, the aim is to grow ground cover plants and shrubs that, over time, will increase the moisture holding capacity of the soil by adding organic material to it, and shading the soil from the harshest effects of the sun, but until we get to that point – and even when we do – water in the summer will be important.

Offloading IBC tanks - or at least attempting to

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