The garden in the early 90s

Gwydion’s sorting out his shed at the moment, to get a south facing window put in. He found a load of photographs, including this one of the front garden. This is pretty much how it was when we moved in – before I took up gardening and the front garden was pretty much a kids play area. The ash tree, which I now coppice and use for firewood, is sprouting invisibly at the top left of the picture. The forsythia you see along the top is still there now, looking bedraggled due to my hacking at it rather unceremoniously and usually a bit late (it should be done before flowering). Along the left hand boundary there used to be a slight mound, which included a wasp nest. There was no gate in the fence at the top right as there is now – I added this several years later when I read in a feng shui book that changing the entrance would change the emphasis from ‘family’ to ‘career’. (Not sure if it worked.)

The apparition in the centre ground is Gwydion in a King Arthur tunic, in the process of lobbing a wooden Excalibur into an imaginary lake. He’s got shorter hair now, and no longer wears frocks.


Khaki Campbells, egg preservation and Henley’s Formulas

Pepper has started to lay! I was just looking in my diary after a trip to London, and realised  we had not had any eggs for 6 months, since Tahini was killed, and how unsustainable it is to keep ducks (fed on organic layers’ pellets) yet not to get any eggs for half the year.  Then I looked in their house and there were 5 eggs! She had laid every day since we went away. There’s another this morning, and she’ll almost certainly lay every day from now on, like a proper little egg-laying machine. There is a detailed record of Khaki Campbell egg production on The New Agrarian website, but I’ll count them myself this year. I counted them last year, but it was brought to an abrupt halt by Tahini’s death.

It’s so difficult to get the balance right. Really we need enough birds so that one death doesn’t render us eggless for months. But even 2 eggs a day is more than enough for us. Normally we sell some, but  it would be more use for us to preserve them. On the rare occasions we buy eggs we normally pay more than we sell them for. I was going to rub them in bees wax. I have now found some instructions for dipping them briefly in a mixture of bees wax and olive oil, so I’ll  give that a go, and also a recipe for using lime (I do like my lime).

These recipes come from an interesting looking book called Henley’s Twentieth Century Formulas Recipes Processes Vol.2 which, according to Chest of Books (where it can be read online in full), “This book is containing ten thousand selected household and workshop formulas, recipes, processes and money-saving methods for the practical use of manufacturers, mechanics, housekeepers and home workers.” It is an 800 page tome that refers to a curious mixture of natural ingredients, acids and petrochemical ingredients. Interesting reading that might well come in useful at some point.

Although I profess to prefer natural ingredients, I’m not in practice terribly pure about this. It has more to do with habit and willful blindness than anything. I use only unbleached flour for my bread, but I’ll eat any old pastry product. I cook 99% sugar free, but I eat Roses chocolates, sliced bread and loads of baked goods from Food For Thought. We always buy toothpaste, but making our own would be no harder than making mayonnaise. I eat Quorn, use WD40, Pritt glue and biro ink, although I know absolutely nothing about how these are produced. If I’m going to use dubious things I may as well source the raw materials and make them myself. I just need to assemble a good collection of pans and utensils that aren’t used for cooking dinner. And wear goggles.

Mass and void in the garden

 Picture I think I’ve got to the bottom of what’s wrong with my garden (apart from the mud, the ducks, the weeds, the junk and now a load of sludgy snow). I picked up a copy of John Brookes’Garden Design Workbook at the car boot sale the other day. It’s a nice book, as are all Dorling Kindersley titles, and covers briefly the various factors, techniques and steps involved in making your garden look nice – in other words garden design (conventional as opposed to permacultural). The problem with picking something up as you go along rather than being trained professionally is that you can manage to miss out on absolutely fundamental concepts. One that has hitherto passed me by is the principle of masses and voids. Basically you either have stuff (trees, buildings, plants, beds, etc) or you have spaces such as paths, lawns, patios and water. Together they make the whole design.

I have often worried about what I call the ‘bits in between’: non-areas of un-garden such as those odd little triangles caused by the curve of a round bed meeting a straight path, or a tyre bed next to the hedge. I wouldn’t want to put appearance above function, but they do actually make up a lot of garden area. In an ideal world they’d be full of nice crops like rocket and mange tout peas, but in fact they are mostly overshadowed areas of duck-trodden mud – and there’s only so much plantain a girl can use. I’d been hoping someone else would solve the problem – like a WWOOFer, or someone who comes to visit, but no one has. As for the stuff, I read in a book once that ‘collections’ look better than individual items, so I have tried to cluster the duck house, the empty buckets, the compost heap and the bins of duck food, say, or group all the pots of plants together on the patio. But it still persists in looking a complete mess.

So now I am contemplating mass and void. Where I went wrong is to place ‘things’ (duck house, bird table, hedgehog house, compost bin, shed) and create beds or plant trees, and leave the remaining space as non-area. In other words the void has not been designed. A better approach might be to design a nice shaped void and then cluster plants and things in the odd shapes. For example the lawn. At the moment it is arranged as follows:

  • North a (disproportionately) narrow border of random plants and weeds follows the line of a completely straight fence;
  • East a bedraggled hedge follows the slightly diagonal boundary wall, with a jutting out bit of wall, a washing line pole, steps to the gate and a messy area of compost bin, bundled willow, old bike wheels and a hole for disposal of the neighbours’ cat shit;
  • South a diagonally placed potting shed, a paddling pool-come-fig-propagator against a broken boundary fence, the dog crate that the ducks live in when they’re at the back and a bit of haphazard planting around the pond;
  • West a row of blackcurrants, a (disproportionately narrow) wooden arch, the other washing line pole, a fuchsia, a rose and an old freezer (cold frame).

In the middle the so-called ‘lawn’ is bisected (unequally) by a path of paving slabs, crossed by the washing line and dotted with disparate pieces of garden furniture.

So I’m going to do that thing that Don Juan tells Carlos Castaneda to do (in A Separate Reality I think), which is instead of looking at the shape of the thing itself (in his case leaves on a tree) you look at the shape of the gaps in between. I’ll make a nice round patch of grass void and around it arrange a mass of benches, paraphernalia and plants. At least that’s what I’m going to do if it ever stops raining.

Hydrogen hybrid conversion update

 Since having the De Verde hydrogen-on-demand gizmo fitted, I’ve been doing test fuel fill-ups, to see how much improvement there is in my fuel consumption.

My diesel Transit van used to do somewhere between 25 and 30mpg. I have done four test fill-ups, three with the gizmo operational and one without. My average consumption is currently 34.58 mpg, which includes a run to Cornwall, another to Exeter, some short, local journeys and up through the lanes to Dartmeet. The best mpg has been about 37.06mpg. I then disabled the gizmo and calculated 27.47mpg including a run to Exeter and local journeys. Basically I put in £20 worth of fuel and did 117 miles with the hydro kit, but only 87 miles without it.   That’s like gaining an extra gallon of fuel, or an extra 30 miles of driving, every £20. That’s quite a significant improvement, and won’t take all that long to get my £250 back (even without considering the emission reduction side of it). Dearbhaile has had one fitted to her more modern car and can read her fuel consumption from the dashboard: 36.8mpg on the way down to Paignton, and 50mpg on the way back.

To read more about it, see my previous post (click the ‘Energy’ category, or just scroll down, or visit the De Verde website).

Rainwater harvest – the glut

There is a paradox in harvesting rainwater. It all happens at the time you least need or want any water. And when you do need it, there isn’t much to work with. The ideal would be a nice big shower to refill the butts, followed by a week of sunshine. Right now, there is water everywhere – and to be honest I could do with a lot less of it. Mike came round the other day and told me that Kings Hill is really, really muddy, and I said “Good”. But it wasn’t that I was glad he’s living in mud, I was simply relieved that I probably haven’t caused the water problems in my own garden. 

You will remember in previous posts and in Permaculture Magazine 74 I explained how the water comes down from a small roof section and up to the top of the garden where it is collected in two water butts. These are now properly connected so that when one is full the second starts to fill from it. It isn’t overly quick, but even in dry spells I nearly managed with the ducks’ original butt so three times the amount should be ample. But when I’m not using any, it becomes full and stays full – except that it doesn’t, it overflows. I couldn’t see exactly where the water went, but I presume some of it flowed down the concrete path to the drain, and some just increased the surface water in the garden.

So I finally got round to digging the swale along the top of the garden. This has three intended functions: 1) to act as a soakaway for the above; 2) to stem the flow of rainwater coming down to the house from above the property (largely run-off from the garages, which are not provided with any drainage); 3) to irrigate the garden.

For the first function, the soakaway, it is evident that the swale doesn’t need to be very deep. As much as anything it is acting as a guide for the water – a bit like when you hang a chain from a gutter or run your finger down the inside of a tent. It really needs an overflow that works the instant the water gets too high – but that means drilling a hole, and I want to be certain this is the best way to do it. At the moment I just leave the tap trickling into the swale when it’s raining. The plan is for the overflow to run into the ducks’ bowl, which will in turn overflow into the swale, because that way they get cleaner or replenished water without me having to do anything – and it’s grey water flowing away rather than nice clean rain. The problem with a lot of this is that you have to experiment gradually with cause and effect; keep observing, change things slowly and incrementally.

The second function, to deal with run-off, is working nicely. I covered the swale ditch with a heavy metal grille, as the run-off comes down the path where it normally soaks in and makes the path splodgy and waterlogged. Right now the water is gathering in the swale – where it presumably has two choices. It can either soak in where it is, or it can flow along the swale and be distributed more evenly. At the moment it isn’t doing either. This must be a combination of compaction under the path, and insufficient quantity to spread. Either way, it’s not on the surface of the path. And it feels good to have a bridge!
As for function 3, right now the garden doesn’t need any irrigation, and I’m not going to know until the next drought whether it is functioning as intended. However, I have taken hoses off the taps, which gives me a second source of water for the duck bath and, in some future time when the garden needs watering, I can use it for that too. My goal is not to use the mains hosepipe at all, for the whole summer.
Right now, though, there is just too much water. Yesterday we found it had collected in the corner or the front path, an unintended consequence of the breeze block steps joining the doorstep. It was a good plan from the point of view of stabilising the structure and aesthetically integrating it, but now there’s no way for the water to drain. The chances are some extra water at this end is attributable to the duck water ‘acequia‘ – I’ve noticed how much further and faster it flows when the ground is already saturated. For a few hours I berated myself for being a bad permaculturist, and then I remembered that the real problem is the impermeable concrete as applied by South Hams District Council. It’s great in the summer having the irrigation, and it does seem to drain away – and it won’t get any higher than the first breeze block, which is below the damp course. So I think I’m alright, but it’s a salutary reminder to think things through really well, always to ask the question: ‘And if I do [this], what is likely to happen?’

How to retro-green your vehicle for £250

 There is a place in Paignton called De Verde Technologies. For many years the proprietor, a man called John Hickman, has been developing a little pressurised hydrogen gizmo that eliminates emissions and improves fuel consumption. About a year ago he finally got it onto the market and now he is now retro-fitting them to older vehicles. It takes about two hours (including test drive) and costs £250 for a car or van, less for a motorbike and £500 for a truck up to 7 litres/7.5 ton. It works on both petrol and diesel vehicles and if you change vehicle, you can take it with you. For the skeptical amongst us, it comes with a 30 day money-back guarantee, and the thing itself has a 3 year warranty.


The system comprises a little cylinder of distilled water, wires to the battery, a little electrical sensor thingy, a fuse & holder and a pipe to (in my case) the turbo inlet. It’s a sort of gas thing, and therefore counts for registration purposes as a gas conversion – which then entitles you to a £10 reduction in road tax.  It reduces emissions significantly (this is best verified by a ‘before’ and ‘after’ emissions test), and it was originally developed  as a strategy to keep older vehicles on the road when they were failing emissions tests but OK in other ways. During the development process,they then discovered it caused a significant improvement in fuel economy. From what I gather, it differs from other systems because it is ‘hydrogen on demand’, which eliminates problems cause by storage of gas etc. The only maintenance it needs is to be topped up with distilled water every couple of weeks, and I think some sort of service every year or two – depending on mileage. It’s all been tested and re-tested and doesn’t do anything weird – in fact it’s supposed to make the engine last longer and run better.

On the test run I was meant to be able to tell that it sounded quieter and pulled better. In fact it wasn’t noisy before and I didn’t notice any difference. It’s hard to tell power-wise: it felt normal, but I think I can probably stay in a higher gear for longer. This means it feels normal, but ‘normal’ is normal in 5th when it would have been normal in 4th. In other words 5th is the new 4th. John did helpfully inform me that it is usually men who notice the difference and women who don’t. I think the subtext was that men know what they are looking for. I have two theories: one is that men are more numbers oriented, always know what gear they are in. I’m sure I can remember stories in the pub that go
“Yeah, I pulled away, changed up to 2nd, really gunned it, up into 3rd, doing x000 revs, up through the gears, into 4th, by the time I put it into top I was doing a ton. Then I really opened it up…!”
My other theory is that it is some sort of ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ situation, where they don’t want to admit that they can’t tell any difference. Anyway, I don’t care, to be honest. If it improves my mpg that’s good enough for me – and I’m pretty sure it is –  it’s definitely doing in excess of 35mpg, but it will take up to 500 miles to reach its optimum performance, as it has to sort of flush out the system.
If you are thinking about getting one, there are a few things I’d recommend. Firstly, start measuring your fuel consumption right now. There is a clause in the ’30 day money back’ that requires you to do this for 30 days before fitting. I didn’t know this in advance so they waived it in my case. But also you’ll really want to know how much you’re saving. You need to find a constant: for practical purposes an empty tank is not a good plan, and I find that a completely full tank varies because of how sensitive the little clicker thing is on the pump. So I go for lining up the fuel gauge absolutely with the ’empty’ or ‘half tank’ or ‘full’ marker on my fuel gauge (when parked on a level surface).  Then it doesn’t matter how much I put in. I just have to remember to get to a petrol station as precisely as possible.  Also remember to reset the trip odometer on the speedo. Then the rest is paperwork, and I have made a little calculator on a spreadsheet which works for me:


Download File

Column A: How much you spent on fuel
Column B: Pence per litre as shown on the pump
Column C: Pence per gallon =SUM(B2*4.5)
Column D: Gallons used =SUM(A2/C2)
Column E: Miles driven (since last fuel fill up)
Column F: Miles per gallon =SUM(E2/D2)
To continue further rows, just copy and paste the whole row, and fill in the relevant amount spent and cost per litre (A and B). The rest is automatic. This same calculation works both before and after the gizmo is fitted. The number in column F should be noticeably higher. If not, John might need to tweak the settings.

I have done several test fill-ups now, and at the moment the best mpg has been about 37 (including a run down to Cornwall) and averaging  about 34, compared with 27mpg without the gizmo connected  (you can easily disconnect the fuse to go back to normal). At the last comparison I put in £20 worth of fuel and did 117 miles with the hydro kit, but only 87 miles without it.  Basically that’s like gaining an extra gallon of fuel, or an extra 30 miles of driving, every £20. That’s quite a significant improvement, and won’t take all that long to get my £250 back (even without considering the emission reduction side of it).

If you buy one,  I’d be really grateful of you would mention me, or the Permaculture House in Totnes website, as they said will give me a bit of referral commission. At risk of sounding like some sort of Amway nutter, I really do think this is a brilliant thing and if enough people get it it will have a significant effect on the environment. I’m just so lucky it happens to be near to home, because people are travelling down to Paignton from all over the country to get it done. John also exports them to developing countries – who use his training videos to learn to fit them so he doesn’t have to fly anywhere – and presumably it creates jobs for local people.

What I love is that we don’t need to frown upon the older vehicle any more. I’ve always had a problem with the idea that poor people who can’t afford a multi-thousand pound new eco-car are the pollution baddies, and that scrappage schemes etc do not adequately consider the embodied energy in the manufacturing process and how wasteful it is to throw them away rather than pay small local vehicle firms to mend them and keep them on the road. Plus older vehicles are just so much nicer.  This is going to be brilliant for Land-Rover owners, classic cars and bikes, live-in vehicles – and of course for anyone who ends up doing a lot of mileage, even if ethically they’d rather not. The price is low enough that it is within the range of normal people, and the savings should be great enough that you’ll realistically get your money back. It is therefore as accessible to people who don’t care about carbon reduction as to those who do.

Solar Powered Shed

 I’ve finally got solar power! Every year for the last few years I have wasted everyone’s time at the solar stalls at festivals getting advice, and then chickened out at the last minute and survived without it. This is partly  because of the expense and partly because I could never settle on what I actually wanted. They all told me I had to ‘work out what I needed’, but this was effectively a circular argument because the reason for seeking advice in the first place was that I didn’t know what to buy. So I always leave site amid some embarrassing dead battery scenario and all the attendant irritations that involves, like waiting around a lot, being called ‘love’ by breakdown men, and being informed my jump leads ‘aren’t very good’ even though they have always worked absolutely fine, and if they work fine for jump starting the vehicle I want them to jump start, it seems to me that this, de facto, counts as ‘good’. It’s just a power thing. They have to place themselves slightly above me: assisting someone on an equal basis just doesn’t work for them. Amusingly in this particular case they then proceeded to not be able to find their own battery, and had to resort to the vehicle’s user manual. Really I prefer to have two batteries so under adverse circumstances I can give myself a jump start. That seems like the ultimate in self-sufficiency.

Anyway, the whole solar thing was finally sorted nearer to home and away from the pressures of a festival, when I happened to mention to the Beco guys at the Energy Fair that I was after a DC system. The eminently helpful Dan Bayley got the measure of me quite quickly because he told me they had an ‘end of line’ PV module, shortly followed by an offer of one with “funny discoloured bits”, which I duly purchased. It works absolutely fine – when tested it was running at 99% efficiency – and I splashed out on a really good Morningstar SunSaver regulator, which allows for adding another three 80W modules. It’s now all connected up, with an almost-knackered leisure battery and powering some perky little LED lights which bathe the big shed in light superior to that produced by the 240v energy saving bulbs indoors. It will also power a charging station for mobile phones and batteries, and when I go away in the van, the whole thing can up and go with me .

Low-impact dairy farming

One of my smallholding goals is to keep dairy sheep – although, with prohibitively high set up costs, stringent hygiene standards, and an onerous level of work, I had always thought it would be something to defer until later. But at Monkton Wyld and Fivepenny Farm the dairy operations are encouragingly rustic and leave plenty of time for other activities and interests.

Herd size

Firstly herds (or flocks) need to be small.  At Monkton Wyld Simon Fairlie has 2 Jersey cows from which he makes a basic income – although he suggests 4 would generate a better wage. With a small herd milking can start later – the traditional 5am start is designed to accommodate a large herd – and finish earlier. At our 9am class Simon pointed out that his work was already finished for the day. My plan is for a flock of 5 Dorset Horn sheep. I find it hard to consider anything fewer than that a ‘flock’. Any more, and it will become hard work – plus I want to know the sheep as people. It amazes me how different the ducks’ characters and temperaments are. I would never have known this if I didn’t have so few.


The fewer animals you have the less land you need – although I guess it is possible in theory, if you have the time, to wander round the lanes letting them graze the verges. There are several matters to consider. Firstly the animals simply need somewhere to be. Unlike horses, which are sometimes kept predominantly (wholly?) in stables, cows and sheep need a field. Sheep need to be somewhere well drained so that they don’t get foot trouble. Secondly there is the matter of grazing. They need enough space to be able to eat a significant amount of food straight from the land. Lastly is the matter of fodder production. If you buy in fodder it will increase costs and decrease profitability. Simon spoke extensively of grazing systems and nutrient cycles and drew diagrams on the board, the gist of it being that you divide the land (with electric fencing run off a solar panel) and rotate the grazing to control which sections are grazed and which are to be mown for hay, and when. This needs to occur at the optimum time (and is a topic in its own right) and, with enough people or little enough land, can be done by hand with scythes.



Simon’s milking parlour looked comfortingly like a traditional old barn, not the modern concrete and mechanical monstrosities you normally see. The floor and ideally the walls should be impervious and easy to clean, but other than that there doesn’t appear to be any specific requirement. I might be using the wrong search terms, but I can’t find any regulations. With a small herd it is feasible to milk by hand. I’ve never been terribly keen on the idea of vacuum clusters extracting milk mechanically, and privately aspired to hand milking whilst expecting a certain derision for sentimentality and lack of professionalism. Not at all. You can hand milk professionally. This reduces capital investment and, with no clusters, pipes or bulk tanks to clean, minimises the environmental health hazards.

Dairy processing

The dairy where milk butter and cheese are processed is where the health regulations really kick in. The walls and floor need to be impermeable and able to be pressure washed. Windowsills need to slope so that cannot gather dust, and the room has to be ventilated but also fly and rodent proof. The equipment is normally made of stainless steel. Pasteurisation does not require any special equipment as it is simply a question of heating the milk to 76 degrees. Jyoti’s co-operative got a grant to buy a mechanical cheese maker, but at Monkton Wyld they use a big pan on a paella gas ring, and stir by hand. Milton fluid is used for sterilisation and everything is washed really well. There are records to be kept and you have to have your dairy approved by your local authority in the first place, but it all looks do-able, even on a shoestring.

Stainless steel is de riguer in the dairy

Cheese is made in a whopper pan on a paella gas ring

The market

The good thing about Monkton Wyld is that the community provides a ready made market for Simon’s milk and cheese. He gets paid more per litre for his milk than I pay for it in the wholefood shop. He pointed out that the community is the size of a small village, and stressed that to start a viable smallholding you need to think about who your market is going to be. I know this in theory: they say it in business plan workshops. But I am so used to selling things remotely, to random people online, I have lost touch with the concreteness of local marketing. If there are people there who want your stuff, you’ll sell it. But if someone else starts up doing what you do, you are going to lose a lot of your market – unless theirs is crap or yours is better (or cheaper). It highlights the importance of cooperation rather than competition as well as finding gaps in the market. It is not only ‘What can you sell your customers that they can’t currently get?’ and ‘What can you do to fill the gaps between what the current suppliers sell and do?’ but also ‘How can I assist or complement the work of other local suppliers?

Paddling pool propagator

I’d been wondering what to do with the paddling pool and the polystyrene and the celotex and the old camping sleep mats and the big crates and the paper cups and the compost in the plastic bin by the shed. And I had been wondering where to put the figs to propagate. So now that’s all resolved. 87 fig cuttings in paper cup pots of soil-based compost, laid out in crates placed on insulation in the paddling pool and standing in willow-water to promote rooting.

Picture It makes a nice neat area without too much sun, and will retain moisture. Figs like rooting in the wet. The next phase is to erect a rudimenatary willow bender and cover it with reclaimed polythene. Yeah, polytunnel!

‘How to Set Up a Low-Impact Smallholding’: the course

This 3 day course is run twice a year at Monkton Wyld Court, a community based in an old manor house and its estate on the Devon/Dorset border. I’ve just been on the autumn course, and come back with loads of new enthusiasm and ideas for my own project. The tutors are Simon Fairlie and Jyoti Fernandes, both of whom used to live at Tinker’s Bubble, the impact community in Somerset, where they were instrumental in obtaining permanent planning permission for the community. So they are both low-impact planning experts and work with Chapter 7 (the planning office of The Land Is Ours).  Simon is also co-editor of The Land  magazine and author of Meat: A Benign Extravagance and Low Impact Development and now lives at Monkton Wyld where he also keeps dairy cows and sells scythes. Jyoti now co-owns Fivepenny Farm where she too runs a livestock and dairy business and presides over the Peasants Evolution Producers’ Co-operative. She is a mine of information about business plans and  financial and  funding matters.

The first half of the course was theory. Teaching was a fairly traditional teacher-led format, without touchy-feely novelty teaching methods but quite informal and with ample opportunity to ask questions and explore topics. These included assessing and buying land, social and economic structures, planning and development and agricultural issues such as crops, livestock and grass management. There was a 16 page handout to accompany the course. Simon also treated us to two slideshows of smallholdings and low-impact buildings, shown on a retro projector so prone to malfunction that on the second night it unfortunately drove him to drink.

The second half of the course was site visits. Our knowledgeable tutors and hosts demonstrated actual examples and provided loads of valuable experience-based information, closing the gaps between theory and practice. I just went round probing and gleaning every bit of useful information I could. I’ll have to save the detail for future posts , but in the meantime please do follow the links or search the web to find out more about these inspirational projects. I also recommend you keep an eye out for the practical smallholding skills course to be run at Monkton Wyld.

Monkton Wyld

At Monkton Wyld we looked around the traditional walled vegetable garden that feeds the community, and were shown the bed system which is easily hoed by hand, without bending. The pigs clear the land ready for fresh cultivation and are fed on whey and food production waste (regulations prevent them being fed on kitchen waste). A reed bed disposes of human waste, albeit not as efficiently as Simon would like because the nutrients are concentrated in patches rather than dispersed more generally.
We toured Simon’s domain: the milking parlour and scythe store, housed in barns forming part of a traditional farmyard where everything is conveniently adjacent, and his pasture, which is technical and complicated to manage correctly in order to optimise nutrient levels.
Several elements such as the pond, an embryonic forest garden and a misplaced belt of trees raised questions about efficiency and site planning in a community when priorities and interests may vary. Simon has autonomy over his own enterprise, and presumably has a say in community affairs, but anyone who has read his books or articles will understand that his preferences for livestock and pasture will not always dovetail perfectly with tree planting and scavenging of tat, for example.

Flintbatch Working Woods

At Flintbatch Working Woods we looked at Guy Furner’s wonderful woodland barns, built from his own timber under the permitted development rules – which fortunately say nothing about style or materials, because they look as unlike the usual portal frame barn as anything I have seen. He showed us where the heavy rain had cause a landslide this summer, and we helped him load his charcoal burner, which he fired up to make the charcoal he sells to local campsites. He also keeps woodland pigs – at a very low density for minimum impact on the woodland, and raises ducks on the natural pond system he has created.

Fivepenny Farm

In the dwindling evening light Jyoti showed us around Fivepenny Farm, most notably the  Peasants Evolution Producers’ Co-operative processing barn, bought and equipped with grant funding and used by numerous local businesses. It is an excellent example of community ownership working. Jyoti doesn’t have allow others to use anything of her own (other than access and parking) as it is all owned by the co-op. She gets to use equipment she might not have been able to afford to buy for herself, and so do all the other businesses, without the cost and energy of duplicate infrastructure. The co-op charges £50 a day, so it’s probably not viable for someone’s home produce (like my jams, juices and chutneys for example) but for small producers it is the difference between meeting environmental health standards and not.
The facilities include a big apple press with pasteurising and bottling set-up, and a dairy with cheese and yoghurt making facilities. They also have a ‘shop’ that they use for open days, and WWOOFer accommodation upstairs. The barn was built using local timber and labour.


Ourganics Evolving Systems is a project run by Pat Bowcock on 5 acres of water meadow reclaimed using traditional drainage channels with sluice gates that direct the water where and when needed. When the sluice gate is opened, the water runs in and floods the gravel areas which normally serve as paths. The water soaks down gradually and is retained in the soil of the raised beds. If there is too much water, it is let out, to drain into the pond.
Pat also has lots of interesting and do-able elements like a compost toilet and urinal system, tyre worm bins in which she made all the soil for the beds, a hugelkutur bed, a solar shower in the polytunnel, a solar irrigation pump, as well as several self-contained low-impact dwellings for herself and her thousands of volunteers. The site is also home to Bridport Renewable Energy Group’s experimental biodigester, and is a Permaculture Association LAND Centre.

The Trading Post

The Trading Post is trading at its most vibrant. I want one. Steve Friend and Sue Hassell have converted a redundant petrol station on the old A303 to an outlet for the vegetables grown on the adjoining 2 acres of land, and supplemented by other interesting local, wholefood and delicatessen produce. Their objective was to provide local employment, hence the broader range of bought-in stock, and they also have a cafe in a converted railway carriage

Tinker’s Bubble

Tinker’s Bubble aim to be fossil fuel free, and community members all put so many hours work into the work of the community. They cook and eat communally, and have a shared kitchen, library and wood-fuelled bathroom as well as their own individual dwellings which are many and varied. They produce a lot of apple juice and cider from the existing orchards, although crops have been poor this year.
The community’s pièce de résistance is the wood fuelled steam engine used for making tree trunks into planks – it is fired up about once a week to saw the wood, which is extracted by horse and human power and sold to local people for sustainable building.

And talking of steam, I’ve run out of it…