What have you done today to lower your impact?

We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

A Greenhouse for free!

When we moved into the house in Hayle we immediately noticed that the house next door was empty but had clearly been occupied by a gardener, he died apparently, two greenhouses stood abandoned in the yard. It took awhile but we finally met the new owners and they are more than happy to have us take them both, and the composter, and any pots we could find. So the first one is ready to be cleaned up and refitted with its glass while the second one awaits in the overgrown yard next door. The compost has gone to the allotment and the composter is ready for filling in our back yard. We both feel happy to be rescuing these greenhouses and think the previous owner would be pleased as well to see them saved from the dump. They will be invaluable for getting plants started while the soil prep is taking hold in the allotment.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

My work bike

Now that we are car free again we have decided to get some bikes. I've made mine into a work bike. Here is the first use of the trailer. I picked up about 10 pounds of veggie clippings from a commercial kitchen to add to our compost. I've got about £150 or so into this bike, so far so good. Now if I can just learn to navigate roundabouts!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Episode IV: A New Garden

At long last I've returned to the blog. Much has changed since my last post but for now, just to keep it simple, we have moved back to the UK, to Hayle in Cornwall.
We are renting but we have an allotment. It is 40 X 40 and is a mere block from the house.
The fence supports blackberry brambles and sloe. It is currently the only planting on the site and as such is receiving our attention first.
The weather this winter has been exceptionally wet and we are reluctant to dig until the soil dries out. The plot has been tilled to keep weeds under control, not by us, so it desperately needs covering up with some mulch, of which we have none, nor a car to procure any. Our first task has been to design a path and beds layout. We decided to put an initial path along the fence to access the perennials there as well the trash and such in the brambles and on the far side. You can see I've set up the composter, temporarily, while i've also bagged up some trash. The holly bush has been trimmed by the same fellow who tilled the site. As that is the only available material I have used it to layer the path and delineate the path for now. Our plan is to use paths as fertility building areas. As the mulch breaks down it will encourage earthworms and add organic matter to the soil.
I'm on the hunt for sources of mulch. We don't plan on getting a car but we have procured bicycles and a trailer to haul scavenged materials. I'll post more as we progress as well as the story of how and why the move came about.

Sunday, 15 September 2013


traveling by train is the bees knees!
Due to family obligations Jacqui and I are moving back to the UK. We are sad to put the Hickory phase of our investigations into living more sustainably on hold but there are new opportunities presented for us to explore. We will be living as renters with very little garden space so we are planning on exploring foraging and container gardening. The city of St.Ives, where we hope to settle, has an active local food movement, a thriving farmers market, http://www.stivesfarmersmarket.co.uk/, plenty of fresh local seafood, and the country side is rich with berry filled  hedgerows.
trail side salad of berries and nettles...yummm!

We are both overjoyed that we will once again be car free, trains and buses and our own two feet are more than adequate in most of Britain. We are also happy that we will no longer need health insurance, after all a good chunk of living sustainably is about keeping unnecessary expenses to a minimum.

I am personally quite chuffed about the chance to live by the sea again, I'll be in the market for a used surfboard and a winter wetsuit cause St. Ives gets good waves!

I'll keep you posted about how we get on.

Friday, 14 June 2013

late spring 2013 update

It's been a while since I posted and we've been busy. We got a call from a friend that said she was taking down some trees and did we want the wood. Of course we do said I. The wood started arriving, almost all oak, almost all just barely of a size I could manage. After five days of regular deliveries we now have about 3 maybe 4 winters worth stacked and drying in preparation for splitting.
one of four new stacks of oak rounds

too big to stack, almost too big and awkward to even move!

When this sort of thing happens all plans get changed to accommodate the bonanza of free energy. I had to rest for several days after this job, it was essentially 5 days of 3 to 4 hours of powerlifting. In the middle of this job I was also working with a neighbor I hired to dig out the Bamboo Trench. The shallow maintenance trench wasn't holding up to traffic so we are installing a bamboo barrier according to the advice received from Brightside Bamboo who have been nothing but extremely helpful.

we've left the maintenance trench at the bottom to allow for drainage

The 60 mil 30" wide barrier is sized for our species of bamboo, phyllostacus spectabilis, and extends down about 28". My neighbor used a post hole digger to deepen the existing trench and we are backfilling and compacting along the inside edge.
the drainage line from the roof crosses the barrier and keeps the bamboo watered

The material doesn't handle sharp corners so we had to straighten out the turn.
this modification yielded some root that I am trying to bring on to a potted bamboo plant

In the meantime some of the artichokes got past the harvesting stage but we don't mind because the flowers are so spectacular.
these buds are bigger around than my head

a giant flower

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Rest in Peace my good friend, the Organic Guru, Richard Clare.

summitting Mt. Compost

When I decided to do my masters thesis on urban agriculture in the city of Sheffield UK, the most obvious source of information, according to everyone I asked, was Richard Clare. Over the succeeding months Richard spent many hours teaching me about the history of urban ag in the city as well as planting within me, a non gardener, the seeds of a food growing lifestyle. Every time I visited Sheffield I called Richard up and he always made time to hang out with me but on his terms, while visiting and working on the variety of urban ag projects he was involved with. My favorite and most valuable lesson? He taught me how to properly plant fruit trees.
Well, no more, my dear friend Richard has died.
what can I say........Richard.

On the allotment with my nephew Will

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

co-housing or bust

scrabble and tea break
RO filter goes into the new cabinets
Another busy month at the Sustainable Living Project. We finally have most of the work downstairs in the main living space completed and have started the renovations upstairs. We have decided to incorporate co-housing into our lifestyle as another step towards increasing the sustainability of the project. As we are not a part of a co-housing community, we can at the very least take on the benefits of sharing our space, inside and out, to make more efficient use of the resources at hand. Our co-housing partner will have the upstairs space to herself with full access to the kitchen and common rooms downstairs.
Since we moved in, the house has seemed bigger than our needs justify. We became used to living in 400 sq ft of space when we were on the boat and then with my mother-in-law in a small terraced house in England. The two of us in a house with almost 1600 sq ft of living space is questionable when considered through the lens of sustainability.
Most urban planners agree that increasing density increases efficiency and reduces the carbon footprint of housing. This step also holds other benefits: our co-housing partner will be able to look after the house and gardens while we are away; she can share in the benefits of living in a low energy house; also, she will be enjoying a share of the produce from the garden. The rent she pays will help us defray the costs the project incurs, while overall her expenses should be lower. 
Meanwhile we are nearing the limits of our resources to renovate, financial as well as personal. I've heard it said that no marriage can survive more than a year of renovations and we are nearing 3 years if you count the gardens, which we worked on first. I think we have done well but it has been a strain at times. It is nice to see the light at the end of the tunnel and we are very happy with the results.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

My apologies to the tree!

The decision was made at last. After several weeks of trimming, thinking and monitoring of the shade the top of this Leyland Cyprus cast on our solar panels, we decided to top it. I'm told that it will happily grow back if we let it. We may miss the afternoon shade it cast on the lower beds this summer, in which case we will let it grow back, as I'm still a little doubtful the increase in the amount of morning sun at its weakest will justify this action. As the season progresses we should get more solar gain as the shade the tree would have cast will be replaced with higher and therefore more intense sun (coming through less atmosphere) and thus will be of more value for hot water. However, once we get to April we will need very little solar gain for the solar radiant heated floor and less for domestic hot water. So, if trimming the tree ends up being of use, it will be for the next three weeks or so, and then the mirror image of these weeks in the fall.

Here's the good news....yesterday we did laundry; ran the dishwasher; took two piping hot showers; and ran the underfloor heating for an hour and a half.....all on solar heated water!  (The backup electrical heating element in the water tank has been turned off)  That feels good!
The view from the top with Jacqui ready to pull the top away from the cut and away from me.

The trimmed bit was the experiment to determine if topping was necessary, the panels are entirely behind the tree.

Dropped the top and lived to tell the tale.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Renovation Progress

At long last I am back to posting. So much to talk about but most important to the topic of this blog, sustainability, we are at long last sealed up and living somewhat normally in the house. We have a new kitchen (utilizing some recycled and some reused materials and local craftsmen), a more open floor plan, new wooden framed double paned windows that are larger for more daylighting and solar gain in the winter ( with no low E coatings except on the north facing windows to maximise solar gain), solar thermal panels powering our underfloor heating system (entire downstairs has been tiled with about 1/3 reused tiles) and domestic hot water, all new sealed to the wall and floor baseboards, all new wiring with all outlets and switches sealed, an enclosed but not yet completely sealed verandah, functioning ceiling fans in every downstairs room, shade structure over almost all of the east and south sides (utilizing some locally harvested timber and reused posts), the beginnings of drying out and sealing up the walk-in crawlspace, an almost full wood pile for the woodstove (which is still drawing air from the crawlspace but will soon draw from outside), all lights are either CFL or LED (the outdoor deck steps are lit with solar floods), winter greens thriving in the garden with seedlings (mesclun mix, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower) coming along on the verandah, a thriving wormery, a healthy compost pile, full water tanks in preparation for the growing season, all beds have gotten leaf mould, most have gotten rabbit manure or nitrogen enriched biochar or compost, we had a great sweet potato harvest(all gone now), a good turmeric harvest (twice a day grated into a cup of water), and the usual greens, tomatoes (frozen), peppers, herbs, okra (a first for us), the trellis is gone and the grape vines have been attached to the new south side shade structure, pruning of grape vines and fruit trees is scheduled for later this month, a cold frame is under construction for the nettle bed, and...... and...... I can't think of anything else at the moment.
Imbolc sunrise, strange tree trimming for more early sun on the panels

New kitchen

solar panels going up onto the south shade structure

drying the sweet potato harvest

giant okra plants

Malabar spinach fed the multitudes

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Sunday, 21 October 2012

At long last, the tile is going in on the bottom floor of the house. Most of it is sourced from local recycled sources or from flooring liquidators who sell on left over batches. Here we see the hearth tiles going in with the input hole cut to supply outdoor air to the woodstove. The roughly 1 ton of tile, mortar, grout and concrete backer board going in will add thermal mass to absorb heat coming up from below provided by the solar thermal system which will encompass domestic hot water and underfloor radiant heating. The added thermal mass will also help to moderate temps in the summer time reducing the need for AC. The posts visible here are locally harvested black locust and they provide support to the upper floor once supported by the walls that have been removed. Eventually the chimney will be cobbed and clay plastered with clay harvested onsite.

Friday, 14 September 2012

rainwater harvesting tanks in place

In response to a comment from Sharon, here is a shot of the rainwater tanks in place. You can see two of the 1550 gallon tanks, the third is to the left, sheltered under the deck. I've filled the spaces between the tanks and the house with styrofoam from the neighborhood waste stream as well as layered waste styrofoam sheets on top to prevent freezing. The intake system is visible with roof washer to the right, there is another one from the other side of the house as well. There are also 3 500 gallon tanks elsewhere for backup storage. More details to follow.