Planting areas and growing food
We now have eight plant growing areas. These areas are safe from the goat eating stuff and have the flat land that can have it´s soil improved and be accessed by water. Three of the plating areas are shown below.
Frances is the seed collector and propogator and all round grower. Barry is the builder of planting areas, fences, gates and water supply. While Ethan supports all and is especially the one moving soil, stones, manure, mulch and compost to different areas of the garden.
The below photos shows the seed growing area by the garage and two nearby planting areas with pots to help grow new seedlings. The 3rd picture show part of our patio area that is both now home to pots with growing support and a partial shade area (for the plants and us) with a roof to gather rain. Where possible we always try to gain more than one use from each area.
The photos below show plants and produce: courgette, okra, strawberries, peppers, tomatoes, apples, Asturian tree cabbage, butternut squash, amaranth, beetroot and cucumber
Today (25th July) we finished a new extension to our planting area which once was the goat pen. The below 1st three photos show we have added a new raised bed from concrete blocks filled with soil taken from new water tanks preparation, rabbit manure and compost from a Falset store. Cucumber seedlings and fennel will now be planted out. Water will come from the new tanks that will be at the top of our driveway fed from the rooves of our wood sheds (4th to 6th photo shows the water gather prep waiting the arrival of the two new 1300L tanks).
Snow+ January 2021
Moving back from Switzerland we believed dealing with lots of snow was behind us and we were always told that it snowed once every five years and it had snowed in 2018. However, in January 2021 we saw more snow over one weekend then we saw in three years in Switzerland! We estimated that in 2 days we had 65cm of snow... take a look at the pictures - these show:
Photo 1: 8th January was a 1 cm dusting
Photo 2 & 3: 9th January with 30cm falling - a huge surprise
Photo 4 to 6: 10th January when we got a further 35cm and we amazed and now a bit concerned that our animals and structures were going to survive.
While there was something to admire in how snow changes the look and created a certain beauty. While walking to the village bar was quite an expedition.
In the end the key issue we had was when the snow started to melt and slide off the roof of the house and cause an avalanche that crushed our gazebo that was less than a year old and removed some tiles from the roof in the process. Most of the snow slid off at night time which created some alarming sounds and we were concerned that some of our cats might have been caught up in this but in the end all was ok. We disposed of the gazebo and used the house insurance to have the roof repaired.
All of the woodsheds and goat sheds that we built survived. Which was interesting when we heard that a large warehouse in Falset collapsed as it was built to survive 50cm of snow only.
We had moved the car to the village just in case it got snowed in but as the picture shows below that just meant it was stuck there instead. Ethan helped clear the drive and a space for the car and we got it back at the house 3 days afterwards as the snow started to melt. Clearing a space for our car was complicated by the snow plough that cleared the road and left a 1m high wall of snow in front of our driveway.
The other damage was to our trees. Many branches had broken under the weight of the snow and one large tree came down. This generated firewood but it took us the next year to collect, cut half broken branches and stack the wood up for burning - showing just how much damage was done. While the snow had all gone after just a week.
Lounge and Dining Room Painting
Using wood stoves for heat does create dirt - so over time some painting is needed and we have tried to add some colour as well as practical colours to go with our lifestyle. So moving away from white everywhere.
When we purchased the house in August 2015 we knew that we had a house without central heating but this was Spain so it is always hot yes? During our 1st winter as the solar system failed, the single glazing windows leaked condensation, the temperatures averaged 15C, we had long weeks inside hill fog and the experienced the Tarragona autumn and spring winds. So after after a winter wearing lots of clothes and burning a lot of gas in quickly purchased gas heaters we prioritised a new log burning stove with back boiler to feed radiators to at least have downstairs heated. This priority came after re-installing the solar system....
The three pictures above show the original open fireplace, the installation of the new system in September 2016 and then in November 2016 the 1st use of the log burner. The 2016 winter was much more comfortable. This then drove the attention to having the right quality and amount of firewood - see the previous article on how we dealt with that. The stove fed 2 radiators in the lounge/dining room, 1 in each of the 3 bedrooms, the bathroom and kitchen.
As we saved more money we then invested in a log burning stove for upstairs, installed in June 2019. This did not feed radiators but heats the lounge, dining and kitchen area well. The pictures below show the before during and after. When doing this work and removing the old wall surrounding the two chimney´s we discovered that smoke was entering the house due to poor construction and quite a hazard so we were very happy we never had a serious issue. We also kept the downstairs chimney exposed to the upstairs lounge so we could use that as a radiator when the downstairs fire was on. This idea seemed unusual to our contractor and we had to insist - we are very happy with the result.
Then we were able to both build in the fireplace downstairs (July 2019) in addition to replacing all the single glazed windows over time and by the winter of 2018 we had double glazing throughout the house. The building in of the fireplace insulated that North facing wall of the house and in September 2020 we were able to complete the other part of the wall old wall and add shelves. I also added tiles to the fireplace surrounds in April 2020 and have in the plan for August 2022 to to tile the chimney breast as well.
Some of these improvements are directly improving the heating while others are cosmetic but this is all about improving how we feel in the house. So, if while renovating we can provide side benefits and improve our well being then this is to be recommended and helps us achieve our aim of living in a house that also our fantastic holiday location as well.
Our land is covered in trees - mainly pine but some oak and olive. Maintaining this woodland creates five positives:
1. The health of the trees, earth and surrounding plants (pines dominate water)
2. Reduce forest fire risk (25m radius of house without pines)
3. Create a supply of fire wood
4. Keep us fit and healthy as it is hard physical work
5. Building a roofed woodshed allows rain water gathering
By July 2022 (so 7 years) we estimate that we have felled 150 trees of all shape and sizes. From now we expect an annual count of no more than 5, while many more trees will have branches cut off. So, we absolutely do not believe in burning wood to fuel our heating system & stove being an environmental issue. Far from it - this is a natural and abundant source of energy that is local, sustainable and allows self sufficiency. While keeping us healthy and reducing fire risk - ticks all the boxes!
The pictures above show the different stages of the tree processing. The 1st stage is dangerous as the tree is around 12m tall. The final stage of splitting the wood is back breaking work before it is stacked and dries for 2 years before we burn it. To help with the wood mix and keep us in good supply as processing wood takes a lot of time we do also buy non pine from a local supplier - we are working towards doing less of this - the supplied wood is shown in in the pile in front of our woodsheds. The woodsheds were started in July 2017, extended in August-September 2020 and completed in February 2021 (this final part is shown below). The process of adding guttering and water tank collection is being completed in July 2022. If full of wood by the end of April we are on track to be supplied with dried wood over a 2 year cycle assuming that the following April is also full - this allows for the pine to fully dry and be the most effective burn while protecting our log burning heating system (see final picture) and chimney from the sap that turns into a tar if not dried.
As well as building the wood sheds over time we have also acquired the right training and equipment to safely and effectively maintain our woodland. We use a battery chainsaw for both self sustainable power source and extra safety. We have a spare chainsaw, axes, manual saws, spare chains, spare batteries, oil, Saw horses, splitting maul and tools for repairing. In addition to safety hats, gloves, boots and trousers. Another new process to learn and equipment to acquire and learn how to use. This is Barry´s area while Sam helps with the splitting and Ethan is learning bit by bit how to sustain our woodland and generate a fuel source as well.
Rabbits: May 2021
May 26th 2021 saw the arrival of 1 buck and 3 doe rabbits. Great for manure (can go straight on the garden), lovely nature about them and our intent is to breed and have a meat source as part of our self sufficiency and prepping strategy. As per a famous UK TV sitcom ´The Good Life´ we are not keen to go down the use for meat road but in case of need we have this option.
The original housing was in 4 small hutches in the chicken pen and then we built a larger run as below.
Realising that both the rabbit numbers would grow and we wanted them to have more space we designed what we named a rabbit palace. And to ensure males and females were kept apart so we could control the breeding we needed two palaces. Again the 2nd design was an upgrade to the 1st with it being off the ground and so making the poo gathering for manure much easier.
2nd Rabbit Palace design below - built with Sam´s help. Water tanks and guttering added to gather rainwater from each roof as well.
Frances and Barry Copping bought Xalet Pigall in 2015. They are working towards resilience and self-sufficiency.