Categories
Forest Gardens Growing Food Permaculture

Visiting Malin Hermitage

On the last weekend of March we finally got to visit Malin Hermitage run by Philippe & Adriana. We went for a first of a series of educational & social weekends organized by EcoRuralis that will be taking place there. I gladly accepted an invitation to come and teach Yoga there. We wanted to see the place a few weeks ago while we were searching for land but didn’t get around to it because Mociu appeared in our lives.

The place was cold – too cold – a recurring problem in Romania and an inspiration for us as we hope to demonstrate that better living can be achieved with hemp-lime construction. Though it wasn’t as cold outside as the freezing winter months it was still cold. We slept in sleeping bags on beds in an attic room (you can see the entry to it at the top-right of the image above). When we left the room in the morning it was colder inside then it was outside. It’s a shame that this was a dominant part of our experience – but there it is.

It was spectacular to be on a farm so close to nature and far from a city. There are no phones (lines or cellular) and no electricity  – at night we sat by kerosene lamps. In this “natural” setting nature has both an awesome and obvious presence – it is a huge deal and no big deal at the same time. On Saturday I also witnessed my first Romanian spring rain – it arrived very suddenly and it poured loads of water on us. Water is an amazing natural resource here, which, together with plentiful land makes this country a rich and promising place!

We arrived on friday just after dark – and this is what we woke up to the following day.

Donkeys are the main working animal on the farm

And when they are eating the fresh spring grass they don’t make great conversation and don’t care to be disturbed. This donkey stopped eating long enough to signal Andreea to leave him alone.

The property has two streams running on it. They had a soft flow and according to Philippe they can dry out during peak summer (doesn’t look like enough flow to effectively create hydro-electricity – at least not at this time of year).

Apparently Romanian farmers have an  environmentally destructive habit of clearing fields with fire. It is driven in part by laziness and in part by government regulations. When you own land in Romania you are responsible for maintaining it and not letting it grow wild. Lighting a field on fire is the easiest way to clear it. So to discourage this behavior laws were passed illegalizing the burning of land. So now, Romanian farmers light fires and run away (so as not to get caught and blamed for the fires) leaving the fires to burn out of control. Philippe’s neighbor did this and his fire burned out of control, spread onto Philippe’s land and nearly spread to the neighboring forest:

During the day we sat on the porch behind Phillipe and Adriana’s residence where we had talks and lectures:

Philippe uses old windows to create an incubation space for seeds. Phillipe digs a 60cm deep space in the ground – fills it with 40cm of donkey manure (from a composting pile kept nearby) and then 20cm of composted soil in which the seeds are planted. The manure ferments and generates heat which is locked in by the window which I am assuming also acts as a solar heater too!

A mix of donkey manure water and clay is also used to create a protective “paint” placed on tree trunks to discourage potentially damaging insects.

And despite the vast quantities of rain-water there were plentiful examples, on almost every roof, of water collection barrels using natural forces of water pressure and gravity to provide irrigation.

Finally, one of the greatest gifts of this weekend was some time I spent reading in a two-volume book about Forest Gardens – an evolutionary form of farming/gardening where a forest-like eco-system is created and planted with a diversity of perennial plants. These plants all work together naturally (as do forests) to support and complement one another in creating a low maintenance and abundant eco-system. This means no more plowing the land, no more moving fertilizers from one place to another and no more dependency on oil and fuel for growing food.

I was greatly inspired (and relieved!) by the potential of forest-gardens and it will definitely have a strong effect on the kind of agricultural work we will be doing on our land. I invite you to watch A Farm for the Future to get you started on this path. Stay tuned for plenty more as another of my major pre-conceptions about the world comes crumbling down.

Categories
Growing Food Permaculture Resources Videos

A Farm for the Future

A series of 5 videos shedding blinding bright light on the relationship between food production and oil. Every unit of energy consumed in inustrialized food takes 10 units of mostly fossil fuel energy to create. The implications of fossil fuel depletion are reaching. Bottom line:

  1. Stop plowing fields.
  2. Less meat consumption
  3. Permaculture – agriculture  by design
  4. Extremely low maintenance forest gardens (that have the potential to feed 10 people per acre)
  5. Moving away from cereals towards nuts
  6. Reruralization – more people growing food & less people living in the city.

Categories
Energy Energy Links Energy Links Heat

Radiant Design Institute

http://www.radiantdesigninstitute.com/page2.html

Categories
Energy Energy Links Energy Links Heat

Boiler Stoves UK

http://boilerstoves.co.uk/

Categories
Energy Energy Links Energy Links Heat

Stoves Online UK

http://www.stovesonline.co.uk/

Categories
Construction Waste Elimination

How to Make Your Own Humanure Toilet

http://humanurehandbook.com/humanure_toilet.html

Categories
Energy Heating

Rocket Stoves

I first came across Rocket Stoves a couple of weeks ago at Paul Wheatons friendly website. I still do not grasp completely how they work but I am learning a lot (and asking a lot of questions) … in other words educating myself 🙂

Gasification

Gasification is a word we’ve encountered many times in relation to high-efficiency wood-stoves. Here’s what I’ve been able to understand so far (excluding professional terms which I still have not got down).

When wood is burned some heat is (naturally) generated together with some gasses. These gasses still contain potential burning energy but in regular stoves they simple escape through the chimney. This is both a waste of potential heating energy and a source of pollution. Efficient stoves that include “gasification” create a kind of “second burning” by (1) containing the gasses in a secondary chamber and (2) by insulating the stove, containing the heat and increasing the temperature (the gasses require a higher temperature to burn). The result is much (drastically more) efficient burning and greatly reduced pollution.

The following video demonstrates the “rocket” burning result of gasification:

Thermal Mass

The Rocket Stoves depicted in Paul’s website is based around the idea of thermal mass – which is a fancy way of saying “something that can contain lots of heat it and slowly radiate it back into the space”. This can be a couch or a wall or even a water heater.

This idea of thermal mass is well known here in Romania. It is used in typical tera-cota village stoves where the heat is directed in a maze of passages that cause the stove to slowly heat up and then stay warm for a long time (a good stove can be lit in the evening and will still be warm the next morning).

At first I assumed that a thermal mass was an inherent part of the rocket stove. But that isn’t necessarily true. This next video demonstrates a rocket-stove used as a cooking stove:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=797446823830833401

More information and plans for this kind of rocket stove can be found here.

This application of the same  rocket stove burning mechanism shows an insulated burner that is designed to keep the heat inside and direct it to a cooking pot. I think this can be a useful design for a cooking stove that can be used during the summer months because it doesn’t radiate unwanted heat into the space.

Water

One of the first ideas we played around with was using the same stoves for both heating the space and heating water. Though this can work it needs careful consideration. Though it’s tempting to think of the stove as heating the water, it’s useful to remember that as this happens the water also cools the stove!

If you add a water heating coil to a traditional Romanian tera-cotta wood stove it will heat the water, but the stove itself will cool down much faster and will have less effect on the space.

It’s empowering to slowly peel away the layers and connect with the common-sense behind heating systems. It makes me wonder about sophisticated technology vs. simple concepts. On the one hand gasification looks so simple to achieve and yet modern central wood-burning heaters, it seems, cannot achieve gasification without electricity!

Categories
Books eBooks Resources

The Humanure Handbook

As the reality of a village life nears us we need to make a choice on what to do with toilets. At first we will need a solution that we can easily add to an old existing house where we will live temporarily. Then we are going to need a long term solution for our house. Then we will probably need to replicate that solution as we prepare to recieve guests, students and friends.

There is no doubt in our mind that we are going to implement some form of composting solution. There really is no justification for actually creating and dealing with waste when it can be transformed into compost.

The question we are dealing with is how to evacuate our waste from the house. One option is using flushing water which is familiar, comfortable, demanding ince for composting the liquids and solids need to be separated. A cheap, simple, direct and ecological solution is a simple composting toilet – a bucket in a box – the shit needs to be carried out by hand!

We’ve been reading around a lot and looking for alternatives and we still have not made up our mind. Today’s discussions and searches brought is to The Humanure Handbook – which seems to be a classic text, often cited on the internet on the subject.

 

Categories
Construction Growing Food Hemp Hemp

Have we found Hemp Shivs for Construction in Romania?

On Feb 23rd Andreea and I went to see some hemp. Two people sent us to Carei in the northern area of Satu-Mare where once (until ~3 years ago) there operated the last decortication (the process in which hemp fibers are separated from the wooden core which we need for construction) in Romania. It was a 5 hour train ride in each direction – and on the way there I was amused as I realized how far my life had come – I was excited to be on a 10 hour journey to see … hay!

This was also a wonderful opportunity for us to meet with Dorin Pop, a construction engineer who works with Teodor Pop of Lux Perennial. Dorin met us at the train station together with his friend and together we drove off to see hemp.

The picture below is what greeted us – deserted tanks where water used for retting (partial decompisition of the glue-like materials that holds together the fibers and the wooden core). In the background are fields where hemp was once grown. At the turn of the century in the area of Satu-Mare alone there used to be 8,000 hectares of hemp (for fiber) crop.

We met with Rodica Maxi who was the founder and owner of the decortication plant. The plant has been shut down for over 2 years, now there are just a couple of offices which are also in their last days. Rodica is one of the people responsible for recent legislation that lays out a simple legal process for acquiring license from the government to grow industrial hemp. She is looking forward to rebuilding the hemp-industry in Romania. Here is Rodica proudly showing and explaining to us abou hemp.

This image of a picture Rodica shows us standing proudly by fields of hemp seems to hold an entire history of hemp in Romania.

After a pleasant conversation we went to see the hemp. We were disappointed to find that the hemp is kept outside. A large venting pipe used to run from the plant and into this field where the leftovers from the decortication were dumped. We were surprised to learn that a form of hemp-construction has been going on in Romania for quite a while – that churches often purchased the hemp-shivs and used them as a stucco-sublayer for renovation and decorative paintings.

According to Rodica it is a pile of approximately 200 tons of hemp with about 10% fibers. This next image with people in it can give you some idea of the dimension of the pile.

We were extremely excited to be standing next to this pile of hay. This is the first time we’ve seen hemp and in such large quantities! The top layers are wet and rotted and therefor useless to us for construction though they would probably make an excellent fertilizer. But the middle layers looked very promising and we took a sample with us.

On the way home I kept playing around like a child with the material we took with us. As hours passed on the way back we realized that there may be a problem with the material. Outside is was probably frozen and therefore  looked and felt dry. But after spending some time in a sealed plastic bag it warmed up and began to sweat and a moldy smell began to form. We’ve been monitoring it for a few weeks and though visible mold has not appeared the smell is still there.

Rodica has offered us to take as much as we need at a symbolic price. It would be our responsibility to package and ship it to our land. It is a magical opportunity but we are still not sure about the reliability of the material for construction. We don’t want to build a house only to find after a couple of years that the insulation and breathability of the walls has been compromised and that they are rotting.

Stay tuned for more 🙂

Categories
Construction Wood Framing Wood working

My First Workbench Revisited

I’ve still not found peace regarding a work-bench. Though at first I’ll be busy more with wood-framing then wood-working – building a kitchen and a bed are also on my mind. So I am still hunting around for information and ideas on work-benches – and it is these findings that I want to share in this post.

However before I do I’d like to mention saw-horses. These are temporary stands we are sure to need during wood-framing and will probably form the basis for any initialwoodworking I may end up doing – including building a more comfortable workbench. Saw-horses are one of those things that people with experience take for granted – but I can’t. So I did some searching around and found lots of advice and options. As always I kept searching until I found this design which is quick, simple and cheap to build. A simple I-joist from 2×4 sets all the dimensions and angles:

So I figure that my first workbench will be a couple of saw-horses with some 2×4 stretched across them. With that out of the way let’s get back to work-benches.

The most important resource I came  across this time around is this article at the Wood Whisperer. The bottom line is that a work-bench involves a lot of personal choices that reflect how you like to work. A good work-bench is the bench that best supports your work. So at this point in time I have absolutely no idea what a good-bench is for me because I have absolutely no experience working. So I will set aside my work-bench aside and allow myself to grow into it rather then speculate about it wildly.

Having said that here are a few more resources I have come across and would like to note for future reference:

  • A series of 4 pod-casts at Bob Rozaieski Logan Cabinet Shoppe which in addition to demonstrating a work-bench construction process actually explains some of the reasoning and considerations that should go into desinging it. This series was also an eye opener for me because Bob works almost completely with hand tools rather then power tools – which was an excellent lesson for me (though I will be taking the power-tools path). Keep in mind that Bob’s design and method of construction (including creating his own wooden-vice including custom wood-screws) are therefore better suited for hand tools. I’d love to see a similar series by and for a power-tool worker.
  • If you really want to dig into this there a book aptly titles Workbenches which Marc (the Wood Whisperer) recommended.
  • The Wikipedia page for Workbenches helped me figure out what bench-dogs and hold-fasts are (key elements in holding work-pieces down ont a workbench) are.
  • I’ve been looking (I now know) mostly at work-benches by and for wood-workers and this video offered a a much appreciated and simple work-bench – not a great bench but a great reminder that there are simpler options.
  • This video is of a more robust table and an excellent example of using building-blocks as a simple way to get around more complicated joinery.
  • Finally I found these (PDF download) simple and robust looking plansat WoodSmithShop.

That is all for now.