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April, 2006:

Eau Eau Eau!

One of the things that’s persistently nagged at me a little is how to deal with our waste or ‘grey’ water.

We have a giant roof area too that.. at the back of the house at least… gave us a torrent of rainwater down a gutter, stopping 4ft from the ground and spurting out onto a wall… nicely eroding the pointing and making the inside wall damp! To complement the look we also have a 2m2 halo of moss on the wall brought about by the perfect moss-growing conditions!

So, last year I bought a small (300l) water-butt hooked it up to the main downpipe and that allowed us to at least cache some of the rainwater that would otherwise be lost.

So, it’s a start but big things are afoot with all of this so here’s the plan.

  • Dig up giant hydrangea.
  • Install 2x 15 litre ‘regards’ in hole left by former plant. These will allow me to plumb in all manner of subterranean pipework
  • Dig up concrete terrace that was inconventiently in the way of the uber-plan. Bah.
  • Lay new network of pipes enabling us to install new bathrooms, seperate septic and grey water systems.
  • Dig giant hole in ground to cache 300l of grey water in subterranean tank.
  • Rig a network of pipes to catch any rainwater overflow from the roof into it’s own over-ground water butt and for this to overflow into the grey water tank. This will give us 600 litres of storage at the house.
  • Rig the grey water tank with an autonomous pump (with float switch cutoff) for trickle irrigation for the orchard, herb garden and cut flowers.
  • Rig the grey water system with an overflow that will feed directly into the land-drain – so should the system reach it’s 600l capacity (storm surge or sustained heavy downpour) then the excess will be taken down to a proper drain field.

Phew. Sound complicated? It’s not too bad and I hope some pictures will help explain things as we make progress.

All of this will deliver us plenty of benefits

  • A new downstairs toilet and shower room.
  • The capability to have an upstairs loo, and bathroooms and a bath
  • The capability to save all of our grey water from hand basins, showers, bathrooms
  • Stop the rainwater totally knackering the back of the house and localised flooding/damp
  • Feel good factor from knowing that we’re doing our bit environmentally and money saved.

Our water consumption last year was 145m3. A significant chunk of this went on watering plants and flowers I know… so this year my goal is to significantly reduce this… it’s not so much the cost but also the environmental waste of just letting the rainwater go nowhere and letting the grey water just vanish… it can all be put to good use. Also, I’d hope that the savings will in time show a reasonable return on investment. As ever more posts and pics to follow.

Springtime in the garden

CowslipsAll around Bellebouche and Gourge the hedgerows are bursting with gorgeous spring flowers. Walking along the footpaths and bridal ways, you come across a swathe of wild bluebells, not the invasive spanish variety but the ones found in many UK woods. Another plant, almost lost now in the UK, the cowslip can be found in buttery yellow groups, alongside the early purple orchid. Pulmonaria and violas carpet the shaded areas and everywhere you look, there are daisies of various sizes and colours.

I love this time of year, so much is bursting through and the colours are all crisp and fresh.Our garden is also brimming with colour. Daffodils, tulips and alliums are all fighting for attention from the miriad of bees and butterflies.

The cherry and peach trees are covered in white and pink blossom and the spectacular pale pink quince flowers, ooze their jasmine like scent around the courtyard and orchard. The smell is so evocative of our house in South Africa, where we had a jacaranda tree dripping with jasmine.

It wont be long before the summer flowers start their spectacular show. There are already flowers on my marigolds and the bearded iris is tempting me by showing how many buds it will have bursting out this summer.

Quince I have created a number of new flower beds since last year. One has a colour theme of yellow, red and white. This includes, spirea, magnolia stellata, potentilla, cannas, tulips, dianthus and many more.

A new bed was created at the end of the orchard, once the home to various brambles, nettles and the odd freezer! This is now my blue, purple and silver bed. The flowers here include, hebes, dwarf conifers, echinops, euonymus, sage, larkspur, bearded iris and many more.

Next to this border, a new bed was dug out to incorporate a couple of huge hydrangeas, moved from a bed by the house. It also includes a spirea, pieris and various spring bulbs. This is still a work in progress.

The last new bed is in the paddock. After Adrian had laid the hedge, I dug out a small bed and planted a variety of shrubs and spring bulbs. Most of the shrubs were taken from cuttings by Adrian’s parents or found in a local discount store. These include, stags horn, spotted laurel, a dwarf conifer and euonymus. Again this is still a work in progress.

Once all these borders have established I will put up photos. The main tasks now are to plant up my seedlings for the potager and plant more flower seeds for the new beds.

Compost Corner, the aftermath

Unable to contain my enthusiasm for all things rotting, I nipped out for a stroll round the garden this morning toting a mug of coffee and… my digi cam.

Couldn’t resist checking what was cooking down on the compost heap and lo and behold.. we are cooking on gas!

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This was taken just about 7:30 in the morning… probably not much more than twelve hours after the whole thing got going. Marvelous!

Another update at 13:00, gone up another ten degrees.

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And now, the early evening reading at 17:30 pushing higher still.

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For giggles I asked Joan to stick her hand in… the response? “Ow!

Last reading of the day, 19:30. A whopping 66 degrees.

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So, just 24 hours after starting this up and the heap is simmering away nicely. It’s radiating heat and visibly shrinking… so much so that I transferred a fresh 120litres or so of standby material onto it along with a fresh layer of hay, a barrowload of cauliflower leaves and of course…. the piece-de-resistance… a touch more moisture in the form of a light sprinkling of bellebouche top secret compost accelerator!

Compost Corner

Our hastily lashed up 2005 compost corner was started out of necessity… plenty of organic matter needed dealing with and we knew we’d be needing lots of good compost for growing/potting in the garden. Slight permaculture mistake… we put it in the wrong place.. trips down from the house every couple of days with kitchen scraps made it a long walk and it turned out that the place we left it spent much of January, February and March sat in 10 cm of water.

Plus, it was hideously ugly… I’d cobbled together a pen from some old roofing corrugated steel and some fence posts. We’d ‘insulated’ it with some straw bales that initially hid the steelwork from view… but here is the existing temple of rural decay :-

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..bleagh! It had to go. So, time to make a new one.

We’d decided on a three bin system, one pile of ‘old’ compost, one pile of ‘brown’ and one active pile. More on this later.

Rather than splash out on something swanky I was pretty sure I could make something half decent from some reclaimed timber. Our local recycling centre always have plenty of old pallets free for the taking and the local ‘E. Leclerc’ Agri-Bati usually have a sign up saying that clients are welcome to use the discarded pallette-a-bois gratuit. So it was with great fortune that we found the scrap wood skip at the back of the DIY store overflowing with pallettes – result! Quite why these are chucked away I’ll never really understand, but this timber is just the trick for our little weekend construction project.
Putting the ‘structure’ together from random sized pallettes wasn’t too bad. I took a reasonable looking one as a starter and then bolted another to it.. if there was any height discrepancy between each piece it was either out with the saw to lop a bit off or better still… bury it in the ground. This added a great deal of stability to the whole thing and it pretty much became rock solid. It was slightly more work to dig a handful of foundation holes for the thing but it did help significantly with the slope of the land that I was putting the bins on.

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And that’s the framework halfway up, quick to build but aesthetically… a little bit lacking. I was trying hard to avoid the look of half a dozen palettes lashed together so a little capping from a leftover roofing chevron from the pigeonierre re-roofing project last year was pressed into service to provide a rear-rail and then I ‘capped’ all the upper faces with hand/bucket-rests and the front-edge faces with planking but it still wasn’t quite right. Still looking like a load of lashed up palettes, we decided to give it a coat of garden paint on all of the exterior/visible surfaces. That was a big improvement

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The weak link was the gap-tooth look from the ‘T’ pieces between the palettes – something saucy was called for. I built these.. two infill pieces carefully put together with planking cut at a jaunty 45degree angle – that was just what was needed. In time terms though it took me almost as long to make these two little pieces as it did to constuct the whole heap… but I do think it was worth it.. it was the missing piece of the jigsaw.

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So, that’s it. Construction done, cosmetic tweaks finished and it didn’t look too bad. Time to put it to use. A quick mow of the lawn (about 900 square metres) should provide about 500litres of grass clippings to get things started! I normally let the clippings mulch back in to the grass but it doesn’t always look the tidiest – particularly if the grass is long and at this time of the year the grass always seems to be long.

The trick to getting the heap active is to balance the mix of ‘green’ and ‘brown’ – it’s all about getting the carbon/nitrogen balance right. This is why we built a three-bin system the middle bin gets the dried straw/hay for our ‘brown’ component that gets layered in at about a one part in five ratio. Moisture is provided in the form of a light sprinkling of bellebouche top secret compost accelerator!

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And they’re off..

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7pm, Ambient temperature 21degrees, 40cm into the new heap, 27 degrees and rising

Cost breakdown :-
Wood, gratuit. €0
120mm x 12mm coach bolts, dozen of, €1.37
14mm washers, €0.75
4m x 70mm x 50mm roofing timber (left over from re-roofing project) €5.40
handfull of assorted 50mm, 30mm screws €2
Two 750ml tins of green garden furniture stain €2.90

Grand total… not very much!

When you’re #1

Number one… on Google!

Sometime recently we seem to have climbed the Google page rankings and this week popped out on top as the number one result when you search for Bellebouche. After registering the website in November 2004 I submitted the address for google indexing and since then we’ve steadily climbed from position 112 to (sometime in the last week) number one.

It’s a teensy bit nerdy but every once in a while I take a look at the server logs of who has been tuning in, where they’re from and just how much our web visitors look at… the answer is… sometimes surprising.

I’m constantly pleased to see just how many readers we get. We’re averaging 800 or so hits a day, and plenty of unique visitors and all staying around to read some of the content. It’s a bit of a reminder that we should continue posting more about what we’re up to. Plenty of things are happening, mostly gardening stuff, but the first of the year’s construction projects gets started soon.

People do seem to come across our pages whilst looking for some cool things though. If you search for something and come here, having followed a link from a search engine, I get to see what you were searching for.

Some ‘highlights’…

road to santiago pilgramage cheap“, “sweetcorn in sewage”, “ryanir“, “ratpoo“, “espalier apple tree“, “france renovation diary” , “summer work in parthenay france“, “pruning overgrown sour cherry trees“, “charente renovation“, “price sluice gates” and “diligence woodburner

So. I have to say.. if you are checking for sweetcorn in sewage you have too much free time on your hands. If you are googling for sweetcorn in sewage as well then it’s time to seek professional help!

Update 20th May 2006 : Oh how the mighty fall!

I spoke to soon, or rather… because I spoke google doth smite me from their records! No sooner than I wrote this post then we vanished from google.co.uk all together but then leapt in to the number one slot on google.com and google.de. Fancy that!

It’s all rather a bit of a giggle and I’d can’t profess to understand the whys and wherefores of it all… I’m sure someone, somewhere understands and cares about this kind of thing. Right. Enough nerdspeak… back to the jardin

Water water everywhere

Well, it seems to have rained for the passed 2 weeks – off and on that is. All the fields around are sopping wet and the drainage channels alongside the roads and lanes are full. Our neighbour’s lake is overflowing as are many of the local ponds and lakes. One spectacular lake, Lac du Cebron, is the fullest we have ever seen, and had the sluice gates open with a dramatic burst of water showering down the valley.

During last summer our garden and potager was in desperate need of a good rain cloud burst or two. At the moment part of the potager and compost heap are sat in water. Unfortunately, part of my cut flower bed, is also under water. I think I might have lost most of my gladioli as they are still sat in water. I have bought another 100 bulbs to replace them, I just need to find another part of the garden where I can plant them safe from puddles.

I know that in approximately 3 months time I will be praying for rain for all my plants, but after emptying about the tenth bucket load of water from our vast collection of buckets in the roof, enough is enough. Roll on hot summer days.

Paying the price

A busy couple of weeks to get the season underway. Lots of jobs done in the garden, the paddock finally cleared and another hedge layed. Asparagus planted, Jerusalem artichokes planted, garlic bed weeded and nine new trees put in to replace the bits of old ones we’ve chopped up and/or burned over the winter. The Vines got pruned as did the Apples, Pear and Peach trees. We learned a tough lesson last year as we lost one whole mature peach tree due to being overloaded with fruit and a couple of bigger branches from other trees. That won’t happen again.

Two of the new trees planted (a Doyenne du Comice pear and a Reine de Reinette apple) got planted in what now forms a little ‘espalier walk’ at the end of the orchard, pics to follow soon.

A last trip this morning in what I hope to be quite some time to the decheterie. The man from the commune now recognises us by name and is always particularly helpful after first telling us that we can not throw anything away there! In the skip today, an old boiler, a heinous antique bed and a couple of tubs of scrap metal… all the remnants of clearing out the last of the ‘atelier’ at the side of the house. I’m not quite sure yet just what we’ll do with these workshops but for now they’re handy storage for old wine barrels, garden tools and the like.

And paying the price? Well today is my first day in four days without having to resort to painkillers whilst feeling hopelessly crippled by back-pain. Oddly, I seem to have sustained the muscle strain whilst up a ladder doing some pruning and reaching skywards into one of the mirabelle trees.

A thought did cross my mind that with an old 220 litre oak wine barrique, some steel pipework and a splash of Fred Dibnah ingenuity I could easily craft a firebox and a cold-smoker. Seems like a reasonable use for just one of the Atelier rooms I think. Only snag of course is that this would necessitate raising some bacon to smoke in it.

Not quite the Cheshire Smokehouse, more the Charentaise Smokehouse? Hrm…

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