The Honey Glade Yurt
During our three week pre-move research tour of Spain in September 2013 we stayed for a week in a Yurt in Tarifa. We had a wonderful experience and dreamed of one day having a Yurt of our own - it took 9 years but today we completed the build of that Yurt. We have a lovely plot, ´The Honey Glade´ near El Perelló and have worked with a Yurt builder near Granada to supply the Yurt. In addition to us enjoying this great space we also have the option to rent the space out and also have a space to live really far from all in case of need.
Having selected a great plot in April 2022 we established ourselves to spend time at the site and be ready for a Yurt delivery in October. We put up a tent, built a shed, added an outdoor kitchen to that shed with water gathering to a tank and set up a compost toilet. This gave us a site we could spend time at and store materials while completing the Yurt build and allow the site to have the facilities needed when the Yurt was finished.
The 3rd photo above shows the location of the yurt and the photos below show the base build using blocks, wooden joists and wooden floor planks. No cement used to end up with a beautiful wooden floor to put the Yurt onto.
July and August 2022 was a very hot summer averaging 35C. No rain meant easy site management in one respect but the heat needed to be managed and early starts and working to midday only was possible. Then in early August we were told the Yurt would be arriving early.... not something we are used to but a happy surprise as this would mean we would miss too much rain and wind when doing the final build. In the end the Yurt arrived 10th September and the base was not complete and then the 1st rain came for 2 months, so the final two weeks had some time pressure and safe storage of a lot of materials to manage.
15 days after the arrival of the Yurt we started the build. The weather was just 15C to 25C and a light breeze so 9 hours building the Yurt was at least manageable as far as the weather. A huge thanks to Stephanie, Geode, Marc, Kristin and Federico who helped unload materials and build the Yurt who allowed Ethan, Frances, Joshua and I to complete the work without running out of energy.
From the 16th April and an empty plot (1st photo below) to the 26th September and a fully constructed Yurt (final photo).
We moved most of the furniture into the yurt on the 1st of October. Building the sofa bed and re-installing the double bed from the tent. More to do with a small table and chairs to add and a clothes rack. We also took the tent down after 5 months, with two small holes to repair after the bleaching of the sun that discoloured it tremendously but overall it did very well given the length of time it was used for.
In addition to completing the set up in the Yurt we need to install the solar power system (huge thanks to Marc for his design and support here), receive and install the log burning stove and complete the outbuildings: toilet, woodshed, kitchen and shower. The plan is to finish in November.
Solar Hot Water System
We have just had our solar hot water system installed. This is a significant milestone because it took 14 months from the request to the contractor for the work to the actual install. This also importantly means that all aspects of running our home are now self-sufficient. With gas prices still increasing moving the hot water away from gas on demand heating is also a great cost saving.
We can switch between solar and gas by closing and opening valves to re-direct the water. Our view is that keeping it simple and not adding an automation means there is less to go wrong in the future.
In addition we will gain extra solar power to our overall system as any excess will be re-directed to charge our batteries.
We will wait to see if we can gain a warm/airing cupboard by boxing in the the hot water tank. We have already worked on that part of the garage to make it more insulated and overall more hospitable to be in and will be tiling the floor and creating shelves and space for storage. As we experience the new system we may the box in the tank.
This now means that all key utilities are self sufficient and sustainable:
1. Electricity: Solar panels
2. Water: Rain water collection
3. Heating: Wood burning stove with back bolier for radiators
4. Hot water: Solar panels heating a large water tank
5. Cooking: Wood fired stove
6. Sewage: Compost toilets & grey water recycling
7. Communications: Community groups, CB Radio, CD Music, DVD films
All backed up by at least one other source, respectively:
1. Petrol generator and mobile battery packs
2. Mountain water and water storage tanks
3. Gas heaters
4. Gas water heater
5. Gas cookers
6. Other natural forms of use but with good maintenance no back up is needed
7. Mobile phone & internet
When we last wrote about our water supply we had done a number of upgrades to capture more water, store more water, reduce our use and recycle grey water:
In last 2 years, summer 2020 to summer 2022, we have made a number of improvements and additions to achieve the following:
Each picture below has a caption that confirms the Litres each tank holds, where the water supply comes from and which planting area it supplies.
So our house supply survives well each summer to no lower than 30% of capacity and we have enough water for our planting. With the latest tanks installed we hope to stay well ahead of the demand as we increase the planting. In addition we hope to re-start the use of the outdoor shower in 2023 as we have had to use that water for plants in the last two years. Maybe the jacuzzi also can be used again soon while it is all about priorities and then adding the extra as these can be afforded - after all we can always go to the beach of the pool.
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.
We added a 2nd flock of chickens (4 hens and 1 cockerel) in July 2021. Constructing their hen house and run (in April 2021) took key lessons from the 1st construction - easy clean floor, higher off the ground, easier access egg laying area, hen house inside the run and located with more shade from trees. We were fortunate by this time to also have money available to but more ´square and straight´ wood and use less off cuts - so much easier and a more solid and hopefully longer lasting result is the result. We also put 4 rabbit hutches inside the run to create a safe space for our baby rabbits before they move to their spacious rabbit palaces.
One week after the hens arrived the 1st eggs were laid (see final picture above) - not in the right place i.e. the nesting box but still a great start. A year later (July 2022) we are getting 1 egg per day per hen most days apart from November to February when we got the occasional one only - hens lay more in sunlight.
Frances and Barry Copping bought Xalet Pigall in 2015. They are working towards resilience and self-sufficiency.