Archive for the ‘Growing things’ Category

Geodome greenhouse progress

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Projects here seem to have their own timing. What seem like frustrating delays at the time have an uncanny knack of turning out to be necessary pauses: intervals which allow for much better solutions to emerge. The geodome greenhouse has been no exception. With the groundwork complete by the middle of last summer, I was hoping to have it covered in time for winter. This wasn’t to be. My fault mostly. I wasn’t happy with the lack of solid UV resistance data and guarantees on clear PVC and went off to ferret out something more robust. Several lengthy explorations into such materials as ETFE and polycarbonate later, it was clear that robust was beyond budget-busting, so in the end I came full circle back to the PVC.

But during the delay, two things happened. One of the suppliers we were in contact with listed a new high transparency UV-treated PVC film. And Liam acquired a high-frequency PVC welder. I’m sure neither of these facts will mean much to many, but take it from me: the end result is just so much better than it would have been had neither of those two things happened.

The greenhouse cover is now almost complete!

The PVC cover goes onto the geodome greenhouse

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Subterranean heating & cooling system

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

The previous post on the geodesic dome greenhouse outlined the logic in choosing a dome for this site and how it was by far the better option for fitting in all the things I wanted to have in this greenhouse. These include an aquaponics system and a bathroom as well as growing space for tropical and frost-tender fruits and vegetables, seed growing areas, a rocket-stove water heater and a worm farm – a fair bit to cram into an area measuring just 7x5m at the outset.

Geodesic dome greenhouse frame

I also wanted to build in a subterranean heating & cooling system (SHCS) to make even better use of all the thermal mass present in the solid bedrock floor and back wall. This is a proven low-tech solution for maintaining comfortable temperatures and humidity levels in the greenhouse year round. It can minimise or even eliminate the need for supplementary heating or cooling.

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Geodesic dome greenhouse

Sunday, May 8th, 2016

Back in July 2012 we dug a chunk out of the mountainside in preparation for a ferrocement rainwater harvesting tank. Plans for the tank were later shelved due to budget constraints, but a good use for the site was never in doubt. It’s one of the few parts of the quinta to have sun at winter solstice, so was perfect for a greenhouse.

Geodesic dome greenhouse site

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Swaleage

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

It’s been a long time since this blog was last updated. Those keeping up with us on Facebook will have some inkling of what’s been going on at the quinta in the meantime, but I’ve failed dismally at getting to the more detailed documentation of it all. Mostly a case of too busy doing the doing to be reporting the doing …

Following the successful implementation of a swale system on the bottom terrace last year, this last Spring I put in a similar system on the terrace above it. It’s a narrow terrace with very similar problems to the one below it – soil so dry in summer it barely supported a few fruit trees (which consequently dropped most of their fruit before it got anywhere near ripe) amongst grasses and wildflowers which would be dry and dead by July. In summer, the soil turned to dust in your hand and blew away.

Mid fruit terrace

The terrace when we first saw the quinta in November 2008 – a few neglected fruit trees and a lot of encroaching bracken

Mid fruit terrace

The same terrace in May last year – a few more fruit trees, a lot less bracken, but still a largely barren terrace

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Swales

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Swales – level ditches dug to follow the contours of the land – are one of the principal ingredients of permaculture earthworks which are, by and large, recipes for catching and holding rainwater runoff and encouraging it to slowly infiltrate the soil rather than being lost to the nearest river. Because they’re level, swales don’t channel the water away but hold it in situ until it soaks into the soil. They can be dug to any sort of scale and used alone or, as part of an integrated water catchment system over an entire property, in combination with other elements like ponds, infiltration basins and dams.

Bottom ponds

On narrow terraces and steep mountain slopes with thin soils – ie. here – swales are not something you can use on a large scale, but they can still be useful. When I dug the lower ponds, the effect on the ability of the surrounding soil to support abundant growth was immediate and impressive, but it didn’t extend too far along the terrace. Just 2 metres away the soil was so dry in summer it barely supported a few grasses and wildflowers and would turn to dust in your hand and blow away. So after working out the contours of the terrace, I decided to extend the area of hydration much further along by using the ponds to feed small swales.

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Sourdough bread

Saturday, October 4th, 2014

After accidentally discovering natural sodas, I’ve been keen to explore natural fermentation more. Sourdough bread was an obvious development. I already bake most of the bread eaten here and like to have a variety.

Making sourdough bread is a fascinating, rewarding, exasperating and infuriating process, frequently all at once. It’s never the same from one bake to the next, especially when you live most of your life outside and use a wood-fired oven. It takes a lot longer than making bread with fresh or dried yeast, and the way the starter behaves is very dependent on prevailing ambient temperatures, not to mention changes in the natural yeast population, so with the more unpredictable weather this summer, more than once I was caught out by a cooler-than-expected day which threw all my timings. As I learned more and more with every batch, each time I’d start the process thinking “this time I’ll nail it!” and each time I’d be proved wrong.

For a good while I thought this was down to my inexperience with it, but then I learned from the son of an Australian baker and sourdough specialist that it’s always like this and after 30 years he feels he’s only now properly getting to master it. Yet there is a reward in the process, let alone the taste of the final product, that goes beyond the occasional frustration. It is very definitely worth it.

Sourdough bread baked in the cob oven

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Wild carrot jelly

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

This summer, the terraces are covered in wild carrot – Daucus carota or Bishop’s Lace, Queen Anne’s Lace. This is the original plant from which our familiar domesticated carrots are descended. Slightly ironic then that it should grow in such profusion here when I’ve yet to harvest a decent crop of carrots, but that’s down to the voles getting in there before me rather than any failure of the plants to grow.

In the process of investigating the properties of wild carrot, I discovered some recipes for a jelly made with it. (I try to learn all I can about the wild plants which appear here – dismissing them as ‘weeds’ just because I didn’t plant them seems little short of wilful disregard of a natural treasury bordering on insanity.) The jelly sounded intriguing. I had to give it a try.

Daucus carota or wild carrot growing on the terraces

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Redcurrant recipes

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

The trouble with turning fruit gluts into sweet preserves is that I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth and neither, it seems, do most people who stay here. So the store room shelves are usually very well stocked with jams and jellies that are often 2-3 years old because I made such large batches. Recently I’ve taken to making smaller batches, and increasing the variety in both the number of jams and jellies I make and in what I do with the fruit. This has been a lot more successful in actually getting things eaten. So here are the redcurrant recipes used this year …

Redcurrants

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Timber-framed grey water-processing greenhouse – part 2

Friday, February 14th, 2014

The last post on this build finished with the laying of the chestnut ring beam which forms the base of this sweet chestnut timber frame construction. The next part was to raise the main supporting structure.

Splitting out braces with a small axe

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Fermented citrus enzyme cleaner

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

A few months ago I was talking to a friend at a local market about making my own washing up liquid and the difficulty in getting the balance just right between cleaning power and general user-friendliness. She mentioned a fermented citrus cleaner she makes and sent me the recipe. It sat in my email inbox for months until I caught a cold in early December and got tore into serious quantities of hot lemon and honey drinks. As the lemon rinds began to pile up in the compost bin, I suddenly remembered the cleaner recipe.

Fermented citrus cleaner in various stages of fermentation

Fermented citrus cleaner in various stages. From left to right, lemon citrus after 6 weeks’ fermentation, orange citrus after one week’s fermentation, and a new bottle being filled with orange peel

The fruit I’ve used is all grown here on the quinta, so is about as natural, organic and fresh as it gets. I made two bottles with the lemon peel from the cold remedies, then after Christmas the oranges started coming ripe so the 5th bottle is now on the go.

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