15 March 2008. Richard and Lynn told us about the CAT (Center for Alternative Technologies, HYPERLINK "http://www.cat.co.uk" www.cat.co.uk) centre in Wales when we visited them and we spent a while chatting about building and house ideas and looked at some CAT leaflets, which Lynn is kindly going to copy and send to NZ for us. There were some pretty cool things there like woodland gardening, where you plant your food producing garden in layers under the canopy of the woodland. We talked a bit about adobe brick building as well, which is what we think we might build the house from. There are a few disadvantages, like having ot have overhanging roofs to protect the adobe from the rain but which will also block some views. But we’re not sure how much we like the other options.
We also discussed labyrinths and what to make our labyrinth of, and I looked through a few of their books on labyrinths but came to no conclusions.
Over easter weekend we visited and walked 3 labyrinths and loved the turf one at Wing and felt it would probably be worth the work of maintaining a turf labyrinth for how appropriate it would be to our setting.
6 April 2008. We visited Stu for the weekend and spent a while on the CAT website and discussing alternative technologies. It seemed that the website was suggesting that it was more important to make your house low energy use but that it you want to go the extra step then the options are earth (adobe, cob, packed earth), wood, or straw bale. We thought a lot about the straw bale option and think we’ve decide that’s what we want to do. We can at least trial it for the barn. It has some advantages in that we know there are builders around who build in straw bale in Christchurch, it gives options for shaping interior walls and having lots of big window ledges and a lovely rustic look indoors. It also means we may be able to do quite a bit of the building ourselves which might save a bit on cost to allow us to make the foundation plan a bit bigger to accommodate the size of the bales without losing room size. It does mean redrawing the plans to account for the bale size too but I can work on that. We will try to look for a farm in France that is building with straw bales and get a bit of experience and see if we like the finished product. We also decided to try to build the barn first and hopefully to live in it from fairly early on to save on renting a place in the city and still commuting to the land regularly to build.
15-27 April. Le Chatignier
Karen and John are English and have been in France 5 years. Karen still goes back to work for 2 weeks four times a year to make ends meet. The have 25 goats (five milking goats that are milked by hand twice daily), 2 pigs, a dozen sheep, 15 geese, 8 ducks nad countless chickens plus 2 dogs, many cats and 2 children. All of these are fed 2-4 times daily and the feed bill is huge between barley and hay. They grow potatoes and some veg, a little wheat and make their own goats cheese, ham, bacon and sausages. Their house is still a work in progress and every space in the house and all the outbuildings is packed with things waiting to have a place to belong. The house is watertight and got hot water last week but most of the other outbuildings need extensive work. The cottage is finished and can be rented out as a gite in summer and the family live in it in winter as there is not yet heating in the house. They are aiming to be self-sufficient and set up a farm shop and butchery to sell their excess produce and cheese, eggs and meat. They are directing their energy at the land and making it productive in a traditional English smallholding fashion with crop and animal rotation and a diverse range of activities. They are not in it to make a profit and don’t take a marketing or ecomonic view of how things are organised.
Things we learned:
Neither goats nor geese are necessarily as problematic to manage or contain as I believed and can both be really adorable and fun. Sheep cause more problems than they are worth especially with lambing but also general health and overall stupidity. Good laying ducks are Khaki Campbells (or their components – white khakis or … Campbells), while silver appleyards are good eating ducks. When raising chickens keep the cockerels and kill off young for eating birds.
Even though money is not a primary object its really important to establish some form of income for the property as early as possible – we might try lavender but not yet sure what else will work as we won’t be there much early on to tend animals. Vege products for market are labour intensive and small earners without ‘added value’ and may or may not be worth it.
It is important to have good secure boundary fencing and makes moving animals about much easier, without it you waste energy on temporary fencing.
Sometimes its really not worth buying something on the cheap because the extra time it takes to sort out problems and added time and stress to make bits yourself would add up to far more than a ‘new’ one ie polytunnels that have bits missing and have to be innovated.
Having a toilet that is accessible with muddy boots on saves a lot of anxst, so it makes sense to have a toilet in the barn and its own septic tank will continue to get used.
Worm farms are an effective way of recycling dung to become really great soil and we should have a worm farm as well as compost heap series. They are also potential earners in the tourism industry (fishing)
The right tool for the right job is very worthwhile especially if picked up cheap ie post hole rammer, postholer, full range spanners etc, pitchfork.
Animal shelters need to be easily movable – perhaps with axles under the floors so they can be lifted up and wheeled around, or shelters that can be used for several fields (at field junctions). You need an efficient system to keep hay clean so it can be used as feed and doesn’t become half bedding.
Use whiteboards to list jobs to be done, chores to tick off etc to help communication – especially when there are WWOOFers too. WWOOFers need things to be able to get with independently without having to await instructions from you each morning.