Two out of three aint bad

Was that the title of the song or the line I can remember? Either way this is not a post about music or food.

You may remember that I was running a tight schedule to try and get a few things finished for Gosias names day last weekend (18th Jan)? Well the news is that I almost finished on time!

Actually the two items I did complete were for Malina so that she had somewhere to sit to put her shoes on and also somewhere to hang her coat 🙂

The bench was in a sorry state when we bought it for £20 about two years ago and I think it’s life in our barn didn’t do it any favours either, but I’m certain the woodworm is from times past and the only rotten wood was on the arm.

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The bench design is a classic in Poland, almost certainly homemade, it is the original bench bed. The seat lifts and the lower section slides out to reveal an overlap of planks making up the base of the bed. The bedding would be stored inside until needed. Sadly I only thought about pictures after I had started on the repair.

I managed to make a replacement upright for the arm and with copious amounts of glue and wood filler, a dowel to keep things in place and a nail or two you would hardly know that it’s a botch job!

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Still once I had taken off the lose paint, smoothed down the edges and gone to town with the paint brush it started to look ok. Gosia mixed up the colour using an assortment of paints and only changed her mind once (after the second coat) turquoise, green, graphite, white and cream apparently, given a passable duck egg blue finish. And of course Gosia made the pillows, her many boxes of collected materials coming to good use.

You will be pleased to know that I have no pictures of the coat hook shelf thingy build, but it’s essentially made from a few planks left over from our scaffolding and off cuts from the terrace decking. We did buy the hooks in and nails and glue were involved, but other than that it’s a freebie. Let me know if you want one making Smile

 

I did actually finish the bathroom door as well, essential for the guests on the day, but it was only a temporary installation as I still need build the frame, so I left it out of the shot until it is eventually finished.

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It was a great day by the way, Gosia forgave my slack schedule and we had quite a few first time visitors who generally gave there approval to the house so far. The composting toilet was well used 🙂  Talking of which, that’s my current project, so avoid this space if you don’t want to see how my prototype Winkoloo turned out.

Burning down the house

No, nothing to do with the 80’s classic from the Talking Heads, nor the last desperate act of a father on the brink, it’s just that it’s rather cold and we ran out of wood!

But before you worry too much its not the house we are living in that we are torching, despite what you might think about a house of straw they don’t burn that well, rather it’s the old derelict house down by the barn.

Eighty or ninety years old, maybe more, it holds many memories for some of the local people. Only this Boxing day we met an elderly lady who remembers visiting the house as a young girl, visiting your neighbours was all the rage back then. The house itself was considered big for its time and its design is one that typifies the Polish countryside for me, with many examples still sanding, nestled between the modern freshly built houses of the last 20 years. If you ever visit Poland I would suggest a visit to one of the many open air museums, http://openairmuseum.pl/ they offer a unique glimpse of Poland’s past architecture and way of life.

Still we made a deal with my father in-law in the autumn, that if he demolished the house he could have half of the wood for his own winter fuel supply. No sooner was the deal struck then the family and quite a few friends descended, although it has to be said the bulk of the work was carried out by mother and father in-law.  We were left with heavy beams, cut to the length of the van for transport back to the family home, piled neatly under tarpaulins and whilst most made the journey quite a bit was set aside for us.

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In the end half of the house was left standing, the weather turned against us and it made sense to keep the shelter in place as there is still a couple of tonnes of clay in there! Which is handy as I want to build a straw bale cottage there in the years to come.

So here I am, cutting with chainsaw and chopping with axe, almost a hundred years of history to warm a new generation. Marvelling at the giant hand carved dove tail joints that held the old house together, it seems a shame to burn it somehow.

But burn it does and it burns wells, too well in fact as the old dry timbers are a honeycomb of wood worm burrows and rot that has set in over the years. I just hope that it lasts us the rest of the winter as I’m not sure what to burn next…um maybe this bit of old furniture in the basement!

Vampire update

in

Well I said I would update you once I had tested out the wooden stakes and so far they are holding, as expected!

I wish I had pictures of this old handmade cup holder before we smartened it up a bit.

Recycled cup rack

We found it in a friends barn along with some other bits and bobs which we liberated before they became firewood. A clean up and sand down, added a bit of beading to make sure the plates stayed put, plus some creative work with old pallet boards, a wooden cake tray and some panelling off cuts to replace the missing draws. A coat of home made chalk paint topped off with some of Gosias pottery. A worthy piece for my three wooden stakes, I think.

Incidentally Gosia made the curtains from an old duvet cover that she bought at the market for less than the cost of a loaf of bread, luckily I wasn’t hungry!

Completing the cycle

Yes it’s that time again, time to add to the heated heap of nutritious goodness that is our humanure pile. Truth be told this is a late entry as the deed was done on Wednesday the 1st of May after our daily schedule was completed, but as you may have noticed my posts are centred around the weekend at the moment when we allow ourselves time to relax on Saturday night and Sunday back in Rzemien.

But a diary date is a diary date and I will endeavor to keep my promise to myself to keep a composting toilet diary, especially as we are now using the first of the compost for planting. Left to mature for 18 months we have around three wheel barrows full of sweet smelling, light and crumbly humanure; sorry to any of you fecophobics out there, but this really is top class compost and to try and prove the point further I hope to run an experiment with a batch of tomatoes plants when they are ready to go out; a control group planted up normally and a second batch with humanure incorporated in the soil; so watch this space 🙂

Would you use humanure if it was available to you? And for those of you who do, do you use it on food crops or just flowers and trees?

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High quailty organic nutriants: Humanure

nkosChoice

It’s probably the best weapon we have to make changes, but it’s also the probable cause for many of the problems that we face; I know it’s all a bit philosophical for me and I don’t blame you if you don’t read any further, it’s just another hippy rant; so be warned!

I used to live a pretty comfortable life, earning decent money and owning a third of a successful and flourishing business; I wasn’t rich by any stretch of the imagination, but I was able to afford most of the things that took my fancy. Given the choices available to me I happily spent my money on the latest and greatest technology available, with scant regard for the true cost of an item, i.e. the resources that they consumed in their manufacture and the on-going harm that they may do during their life not to mention in their disposal; my electricity bill was the least of my worries and landfill was something to do with the composition of a photograph! This attitude spread to the model of car I drove and the way I drove it, holidays that I took, my choice of food, furniture, fun and my lifestyle in general; very little was done with regard for anything other than myself. In short given the varied choices made available to me, provided by the clever manufacturers and marketing front men, I often made choices that were based more on style than substances. I was a dream customer because I wanted choice and because of the choices I made.

About eight or nine years ago I decided that it would be nice to have an allotment, grow my own so to speak; the concept was gaining popularity again due to the likes of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and I convinced my aging farming neighbour that I would be able to help him out with his vegetable plot in return for a small patch for myself. My sister also had a great passion for growing things and as she started to live a more sustainable lifestyle in Spain and I became hooked on the concept as I helped out on holidays and planted her fruit trees and dug her garden over to make it more productive.

I made a good choice.

As time went on and after a fantastic first growing season, I started to read a little bit more and with the eighty year advice of my farming friend my little vegetable patch flourished and I started to rush home from work to get on the land; the satisfaction that I got from working with the earth seemed to fill a gap that I was unaware existed. Propagating, planting, weeding, watering and harvesting seemed to take away the everyday stress of my normal working life; I was so successful that I even started to supply work colleagues with the surplus crops as the glut came on; this soon ended up in doorstep deliveries to a wider circle of friends and I was even know to take a bag or two of runner beans and tomatoes to client meetings. All of this was done gratis; I wasn’t doing it for the money, rather the selfish pleasure of feeling good about giving. I have to admit that as my chilli’s did exceptionally well, that and the fact you can only eat so many and cropping was far better than I could have imagined, I sold a few at the local garage.

Meeting Gosia about six years ago spurred me on even more, her Polish background and the simpler life that she was born into inspired me to make even more changes in my life and my past avarice slowly slipped away and the choices I made began to be influenced by something more meaningful than a label, a logo or an advert.

Ok, you’re doing well if you got this far, more than 600 words, way past my norm and no pictures or links! Make yourself a brew and take a break, there is a possibility it may go another 600.

It’s worth pointing out that these changes hadn’t actually cost me anything; in fact I had started to save a bit of money, even if it was at the expense of my time, but time is the one thing that is free to spend and the sense of achievement was far more gratifying than making a quick short term feel good purchase of yet another gadget.

But at the end of the day, even with all the changes we had made, we still had to stay on-board the merry-go-round of modern life; going to work, paying the bills and consuming more than we probably needed to, we even did what every government wants you to do and borrowed some money, although our reason was better intentioned than just buying more things, as we purchased our plot of land in Poland; we may have slowed the fairground ride down, but it still kept turning.

So when, through an unexpected twist of events, the company had to be sold we were given an opportunity to make a really big choice; clear out and try and make a new more sustainable life in Poland, or cash in and improve our lifestyle in the UK, thankfully I didn’t want a new Land Rover, so after taking a year to tie up all the loose ends we headed off Poland bound; another good choice.

As you will imagine this led to a whole host of choices that many people never have in their lives and we consider ourselves lucky and privileged to have the opportunity to make them, so we wanted to make sure that we made the right ones when building the house and straw bale construction, composting toilets, grey water irrigation systems, wood burning boilers, solar water heating and a closed circle method of farming and maintaining the land are all big choices that we made; it has to be said that it’s a lot easier to make these choices when you start from scratch, so hopefully we have made the right ones.

I hadn’t intended this post to be so biographical, it’s just gone in that direction; which probably isn’t such a bad thing, although I suppose I have only really pointed out the big choices and changes we have made. The point I was hoping to make was that we should all consider the choices that we have when they are presented to us in daily life, no matter how small they are.

Choosing glass over plastic, paper or cloth bags over polythene, water from the tap rather than the bottle, flushing the toilet only when required, using more eco friendly cleaning products, choosing items on merit rather than marketing, buying local instead of driving to the supermarkets (I’m talking about your butcher and baker rather than the local Spar), making food from scratch and dropping your reliance on fast food, composting everything you can (you will be surprised what you can add to the pile), walking or cycling instead of driving and when you do drive then doing so in a more sensible and therefore economical way, buying second hand clothes and furniture (or antiques if that sits better with you), turning lights off when they are not in use, filling the kettle only as required and trying to resist the urge and impulse to buy something new unless you actually need it; OK I’ll stop!

If we stop to think, just for a moment, then we can ultimately make very big changes collectively by making very small choices; we can also change the way that things are sold and marketed to us. Believe me if the manufacturers see a change in the way that we purchase then they will change their strategy to meet that demand, you only have to look at the plethora of green, environmentally friendly products that are available now; because one thing’s for certain and that is that the world will keep on turning with money as its fuel, I’d just like to see a change in how we spend it to power the rotation.

Ok that’s it, you will be pleased to know that my little rant is over and if you got this far I owe you a beer, served out of a returnable glass bottle:)

One last thing, I would like to say thank you to the shape of things to come who planted the seed in my head to write this post in the first place, that and my urge to provide a wider explanation to why I keep going on about plastic bottles, although I feel she puts it far better than I do.

One green (PET, HDPE,PVC, LDPE, PP) bottle standing on the wall

(Edit 19th March 2013) I have edited a link on plastic types as my previous link pointed to a defunct website, so it’s possible some references may not make sense.

I know I’ve posted about this before but the issue of recycling has been highlighted to me again as I try to infuse my hippy doctrine on my unsuspecting family in Yorkshire.

After spending a couple of hours rearranging the shed, sorting through a couple of week’s worth of items for recycling and checking the local council’s website for information on where to go and what can be recycled, I set off with my first boot load of tin cans, glass, paper and plastic; all of which can be recycled at the local facility according to the North Yorkshire County Councils web site.

True enough, tin cans, glass and paper could all be recycled, but I failed to find the plastic recycle bin; so they all went in the general rubbish wheelie bin that I found close by.

It then struck me that the reason that they may not have a plastic recycling facility is that it probably costs too much to separate the many different types of plastic that are used in manufacturing; why do we have to have so many?

Checking out the lifewithoutplastic website and reading what the various plastics are used for and indeed the dangerous chemicals that some plastics contain, it seems that the number of plastic variations could quite easily be reduced e.g. PET and HDPE have very similar uses, so why manufacture both? Why can’t an industry standard be decided upon, making recycling easier and no doubt lower the risk to humans with regard to leaching chemicals; with a little bit of new technology thrown in for good measure I’m sure they could reduce the risk to human health.

Of course this is a very simplistic view to take and the cost of making the changes would be sited as the reason why it will never happen, but I’d be ready to put money on it that the cost of separating the various plastics (over time) far outweighs the cost to the manufacturers and the strain on out thinly stretched resources. So why should we be paying for it through extortionate council tax bills, when the cost could be more easily borne by the multimillion pound manufacturer?

I guess it’s the same old story, the might of big business and the money and power that goes along with it ultimately wins over the protesting populous, as big business will always have the politicians’ ear; it’s no surprise. But here’s the thing, threaten public health, create a health scandal about the industry and the manufacturers would have to fall line; the horse meat outrage is a great example of this, not to mention the many food scares we have had in the past. So maybe that’s what we need, a direct link to the public health relating to the use of multiple types of plastic; perhaps if we all approached the NHS with back problems brought on by bending down sorting the recycling, or eye sight exertion trying to differentiate the PET from the HPDE, or maybe even conclusive proof that the chemicals used in their production, or ones that may leech out whilst in use, are a risk to our health. Maybe then the government would have to step in, demand a new plastic standard, put the onus on the manufactures and save us all a lot of time and money.

This would of course mean that very thing would cost a penny more; the industries answer to the share holders, but in my mind that wouldn’t be a bad thing and in truth a very small price to pay. You may even find over time that we ultimately go back to a better time when liquids are only available in reusable, recyclable glass bottles and good old paper bags become the norm rather than the unrecyclable LDPE bags that we consider as the norm.

I visited the village butcher the other day and asked him how business was now that people have started to question the source of their food; he said it was like going back thirty years; not a bad thing?:)

I like it when it snows, it makes our garden look like everybody else’s!

It’s about the only Chubby Brown joke I can remember that doesn’t have an ‘F’ word in it, and for whatever reason its a joke that always runs round in my head when it snows, as it is doing right now.

You may have noticed that my pledge to head over to the house to try and get some work done was curtailed by the weather; dropping temperatures and snow on a daily basis for the last three days has kept me in my hidey hole, which has given me too much time to think and I began to get all morbid about the state of the world, which is against my optimistic nature.

So the best remedy to this sudden cloud was to look at some old photos and remind myself of the work that Gosia and I put in over the summer and how much closer we are to achieving our dream. One of the little projects that I think warrants a mention is the pivnica.

A Pivnica is probably best translated as a cellar or even basement, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on; or in this particular case a root-cellar; because it is essentially outside and underground. What would this be called in England?

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First things first I had to tackle was the roof, stripping back the earth and tree saplings to reveal a mixture of old terracotta tiles, asbestos and tin sheet, old polythene fertiliser sacks and the occasional old coat, which served as the roof. Once removed we were left with the rotting remains of a wooden roofing frame, and under this the earth that was piled over the top of the stone built domed structure.

Once stripped bare we had to tread carefully as the earth was starting to fall in on the inside on the pivnica and it was soon decided to leave the earth in place and create a wooden frame to support a new tin roof. Luckily for us we had retrieved quite a bit of wood from the barn renovation  and whilst it may not have had the structural integrity of fresh timber it was fine for this task.

Controversially I keep all our old engine oil and mix it with diesel to create our own creosote for treating of wood; I know some people think this might not be environmentally friendly, but in my opinion it’s a far better use than taking it to the dump and not knowing what happens to it once you wave goodbye; it hasn’t any real value so my suspicion is that it would be tipped into landfill or burned off, so treating the wood in this type of construction seems like a sensible thing to do. Thinking back to the initial cost of treating the barn with a commercial product I know what I will be using next time it needs a fresh coat.

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So frame in place, followed by a waterproof membrane of a low cost roofing felt we dug deep in our pockets and purchased new tin sheet to top it all off. Tin roofs are surprisingly common in Poland, in fact its the most common roofing material used, so we where able to pick up a basic pattern for a reasonable price and from what I have read it has a low embodied energy compared to some of the modern alternatives so I’m offsetting any harm of the home made preservative 🙂

I’m sorry to say that on reflection we will probably remove this roof and replace it with a living roof, but don’t worry the tin will be used on my chicken shed project 🙂

So that’s the outside, what about inside? Well as this was most definitely a joint effort Gosia was busy with her rubber mallet and sacks of empty bottles creating a new glass bottle floor! Its was an idea I came across on the web when I saw a few examples of people making paths with old bottles, inverted and hammered into the ground and as a glass bottle lover it seemed like an ideal solution for putting our rubbish to good use. Having said that we soon realised that my beer consumption would never provide enough material, so we employed the help of friends, neighbours and a local bar to provide us with the three thousand plus bottles required to complete the entire floor. We also inherited quite a few screw top bottles with lids, so they were preserved for future home brew projects:)

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Hats off the Gosia who completed the entire floor on her own, about the only thing I added was encouragement or criticism, but once finished I had the back breaking job of lime rendering the internal arched walls, so revenge was sweet for anything that I may have said out of turn.

And there you have it, an underground root cellar which should keep things cool in the summer and prevent freezing in the winter, I can vouch that nothing went above 12°c in the summer, but until I set up a reliable thermometer for the winter I’m not sure about protection against freezing, but my guess is that it will be good.

When people first see it they worry that the bottles will break, but belive me you could jump up and down on them, it’s solid and by all accounts provides very good insulation.

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It looks like I never took any photos of the end result, but you get the idea of how it came along; as soon as I battle through the snow and cold I will add a few more photos of the finished product…or I will find the photos I’m sure I already took 🙂

Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle

Having just read Petes blog post on recycling I thought I would throw in my tuppence worth, not that Petes observation surprises me, on the contrary its just another example of what really happens behind the facade that many of us hide behind, fooling ourselves that we are doing our bit for the environment by separating our waste. How many of you actually thought that those lovingly sorted piles of rubbish stayed that way as they made there happy journey to the appropriate specialist recycling factory to be turned into something that may have worth once again. The sad fact is that unless it has some value and can be treated and traded as a commodity then there is little chance it will stay in its allotted pile and will simply end up in landfill or be incinerated.

Stonehead made a similar observation to Pete and added further posts to explain the issue in more detail (just search his blog for recycle), and one of the points I think he makes best is that if we all followed the mantra ‘refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle’ we might not create so much waste in the first place. He goes on to point out that the refuse part of the mantra seems to have been dropped and the emphasis is on recycle rather than reduce; after all if we refused and reduced how would we keep the economy in growth!

And that to me seems to be the problem, the emphasis is always on growth and ever increasing targets, making more and more money so that we can spend it on more and more things in the blinkered belief that it will make us happier, but it’s only a temporary fix and we are destined to be disappointed when the next model is released or your colleague buys one that is better and you are left with an inferior product.

But I’ll try not to get on my soapbox because its a sentiment that is echoed all too often, just read the BBC website for a great example of our excess http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20968076 published today, or take it even further and read this article from last year http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17829665 I could also point you to a dozen other websites that take the matter seriously and you could spend the best part of your life just reading about how the planet cannot sustain the growth that business needs to survive, but I doubt it would stop the rot; even if you were better informed.

No instead of that I’ll ask a question that has gnawed away at me for a little while now, even more so as I have walked the dogs and I have too much time to think, and it goes back to the original theme of Petes post about the recycling of plastic bottles. Why does the world buy bottled water? Of course many parts of the world don’t have access to clean,safe drinking water, but in most parts of the western world and most definitely in the UK we have mains drinking water, or council pop as we used to call it, out of the tap . We all pay for it and yet refuse to drink it, reserving it for washing and flushing. It just doesn’t make sense to me, to go to Tesco, or whoever your favourite retailer happens to be, and give them your hard earned cash for yet another plastic bottle full of something that no doubt came from a bigger industrial sized tap with a bottling plant attached. Only to then fill half of your rubbish bin with the empty plastic bottles!

Of course in the past the only bottled water available came in ornate and embossed glass bottles and generally from natural sources, and if you subscribed to this lifestyle you had to be able to afford it. And that just the point, the marketing boys jumped in and told the masses that you too could live the life of the rich and famous and drink water from a bottle, omitting the facts about the environmental damage as only marketing people can, and sold a whole continent into drinking water out of plastic! I wonder how much of the plastic waste in the world is down to bottled water?

Out of interest I thought I would check on the environmental impacts of glass and plastic, to see if one was better than the other and whilst you might think the obvious answer if glass it’s not that simple; although it does have many advantages. Glass can be recycled indefinitely and at worst when it eventually gets broken down and used as aggregate it is at least inert; after all it’s just melted sand. It also preserves food better and does not leach chemicals and I’ve even read in the past that you can store water in glass bottles for many years.

Plastic on the other hand can only be down-cycled, i.e its chemical integrity deteriorates with each stage of recycling and a bottle will never be a bottle again; it will probably end up as a chair or a plastic casing for a TV and it’s useful life is unlikely to make it past that. It also has a tendency to leach chemicals over time and if you place your plastic bottles too close to other chemicals there is a good chance that they will taint the contents.

So it sounds simple, glass is the better option? Well yes, unless you count the cost in money; once you look at the transportation cost of a much heavier glass bottle, in the globalised market that we live in, coupled with our desire to have it all at the lowest possible monetary cost, the answer is plastic!

Of course if we go back in time, or move to Poland, business is still run at a (relatively) local level; the soft drinks firms and breweries still work with glass and the good old fashioned deposit system, compelling you to go back with your empties, turns the tables on plastic once again. Because if a glass bottle is reused its cost reduces; not only environmentally but monetarily, and there is no getting away from the fact that beer tastes so much better from a bottle 🙂

My only hope is that as the worlds oil reserves deplete and the cost of producing plastic (dervived from oil) increases, then we will have no option but to return to glass.

As you may imagine I could go on, but I think I’ve probably exhausted you if you got this far; but I will leave you with one final observation as I drink my Tatra beer out of a returnable glass bottle at a cost of 1.90Pln (38p,$0.65, €.049) If I go to Tescos (yea right) then I would pay almost double that for a can of Carlsberg (or any choice of tinned European beer)

Thankfully beer doesn’t come in plastic bottles yet, or there would be a real environmental disaster!!

How could I forget?

How to save water and the world

To be honest I can’t forget, I’m forever reminded by the rising level of sawdust and ultimately Gosias final reminder it needs emptying; however you would be correct if you were thinking that it is a number of weeks since the composting toilet has made an appearance. Not that we have had any ‘trouble’ in that department (we both eat fresh fruit everyday) or we have being tempted away by our neighbors high-tech ablutions, it’s simply that we have spent around 12 days away over the last 20. So a quick calculation shows once again the toilet has put in consistent performance and provided a good weeks worth of storage.

Now I know from my blog statistics page that you like the pictures I post as they receive more clicks than anything else on this blog, so with this in mind I thought I better start to explain things using more pictures rather than rambling on and leaving you none the wiser:) Don’t worry I have painstakingly edited all the photos and removed any turds!