orWine Tastings in the Comfort of you own villa or B&B while on holiday in Tuscany or Liguria

To book an informative and fun wine tasting whilst holidaying in Italy or arrange for a wild food walk in your area contact me on tuscanytipple at libero dot it or check out my Facebook page

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Friday, 18 July 2014

Terracing above the Pond

Some of my loyal followers may remember me talking at length about how to design a pond the permaculture way some 2 years ago.  The most ardent followers may even remember us digging with a bunch of helpers.  You may be forgiven if you think that this pond surely by now is well up and running, flourishing and teeming with wildlife.  However...  In permaculture design we use the SADIMET model: Survey, Analysis, Design, Implementation, Evaluation, Tweaking.  Yes, and now we are at the tweaking stage.  First of all the trick to grow clover in the base of the pond to seal it didn't work.  Secondly, the area above the pond site was still too steep and subsequent landslides filled in much of what we had previously dug out.

So first of all we had to secure the area above by terracing it.  Luckily we've been having plenty of helpers around.  First and foremost may I present you with our long-term helper for the summer, non other than Jaap, the son of Conspiracy Cousin, Buddha Barti, who had been living with us until his untimely demise last year.

Regular readers might see the resemblance.

Anyway we also had some short term helpers and despite the heat we built some terraces above the pond using old palettes as support.  Zosia and Igor from Poland helped during the first stage.

And Marianna from... well actually she's a bit confused... French, American, Italian, English?  Anyway, I knew her from one of the permaculture courses I helped to teach.

Next step is to excavate the pond a bit more again and this time we'll try lining it with cat litter made from pure bentonite to keep the water in.  If that works, we'll start planting.  We're off to the European Permaculture Convergence in Bulgaria next week, from which I'll be reporting back.  Jaap in the meantime will hold the fort back at the ranch with a couple of friends of his.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Playing with mud

Weeelllll....  I'm shamefacedly looking at my feet for not having posted anything for almost a year... you know... we've been traveling here and there... from Bulgaria to Italy to Ireland to Germany to Italy...  To those of you following my blog regularly, and amazingly despite my lack of recent posts the numbers seem to go up, yes we are still looking for new pastures.  Although maybe not in Bulgaria as we had recently planned, but kind of the opposite end of the continent in Ireland.  But nothing is certain yet, so at the moment we're still in Italy (at least for the last 3 weeks and the coming 10 days, after which we'll head to Bulgaria).

So, were to begin?  An explanation for my muddy feet would be a good way to start.  What I'm really dreaming of, as and when we finally find that ideal plot of land at the best location, is to build my own house there.  It's quite a daunting task if you have never constructed as much as a dog shed and just glean your knowledge from a couple of books and some pretty pictures on the web.  So when my good friend Giorgio, one of the fellow participants of my permaculture course a couple of years ago, sent me an e-mail saying he was organising a 5-day introductory course in cob building, I didn't need much convincing.

The course was held at an Ashram in Eastern Italy (I won't reveal their exact location, as their building is being built illegally) by Koenraad Roggenman and James Thomson from House Alive all the way from Oregon.  Koen, who is a fellow Dutchman, has had 15 years experience in building and teaching building with cob.  It was a hugely inspiring workshop and I was amazed at how easy building with this material actually is.  I mean, even I could do it!!!

This is at the beginning of the workshop.  There were 9 participants and 2 helpers as well as the two teachers.  The helpers had laid the foundations before our arrival.

First we learned different cob-mixing techniques.  The ingredients are clay, of which there were abundant quantities around at a very pure form, sand, straw and water.  The traditional method simply involves squidging the ingredients around a tarpaulin with your bare feet.  Very satisfying!!!

The faster but more upper-body strength intensive method involves lifting the tarpaulin and treading and kicking it from the outside as demonstrated by our teachers here:

Then we got building.  It's just so easy!  Here's me working on a shelf or bench, built into the wall.  You simple sculpt around it:

And in this short period we learned much more.  We learned how to make earthen plaster:

We were even encouraged to make some quite artistic plasterwork:

And we learned how to make earthen floors:

In those 5 days, with all the other lectures and practice sessions in between, 10 of us working maybe 3-4 hours on site per day managed to build the wall of a 20m2 house to the height of about a metre.  Given that the wall is 50cm thick, I reckon that's pretty good progress.  There is a second workshop on that site starting today with 25 students lasting for 10 days.  If they don't manage to finish the walls, they are a bunch of woossies in my opinion!  

Whilst I might not be quite ready to build an entire house from scratch on my own at this particular point in time, this workshop has been really inspiring and confidence boosting.  I will start with a couple of little projects around our house in Italy and Coen said he'd be open for further invitations from Europe to organise a workshop if and when we find our spot in Ireland (or wherever...)

In the meantime I really enjoyed my time playing in the mud... :)

And I promise I will write another post real soon about what's been happening at our land back in Italy as well as report on The European Permaculture Convergence in Bulgaria, where we will be heading soon.