Saturday, August 17, 2013

Permaculture Inspiration & Plans For Autumn 2013 to Spring 2014.

Since completing the PDC course at, my interest and inspiration for creating a permaculture solution, as a way forward has strengthened remarkably. I can see the reasons so much more clearly for why I want to make progress, but it's also developing into a bit of a passion. Not least because I learnt so much in the space of two weeks with Tim & Dave as our tutors.

One other person I've known of for a long time, but whose work I could understand much less of before the PDC is Phil Cashman, who has recently set up permaculture-awa

Since our return to Japan & before it got too blazing hot to be working outside in the sun during the middle of the day, I have spent a couple of days at his workshops. From doing things from weeding, to observing his projects in Hayama (Kominka Home) & Wada (Permaculture Dojo) & participating in workshops, it's been an inspiration to see what he's achieved and the projects he's working on.

Below are some pictures from the last workshop which took place towards the end of July.

Above: Phil explains how to cook up a mean worm juice, ready to bring life to soil & plant growth!

Above: Here he shows the workshop participants how a worm farm works.

Above: Growing vegetables in a weed free bed of rice husks - a waste product / perfect mulch material from rice farmers!

Above: The workshop makes a brick pizza oven!

Above: Phil inspects the finished arch for imperfections & weaknesses.

And so this brings us to my plans for when the weather cools down from the end of September - till May next year.
Some of the winter season will be too cold to work outside, but I intend to do as much as I can.
It may be considered ambitious to try and complete it all, but I know if I don't I'll only wish I had next summer - so here's what I have in mind:

(1). At the North side of the house I will build a chicken run. This is intended to provide not just organic, proper free range eggs & chickens - but as chickens have a body temperature of 46 Deg C, my intention is to build a greenhouse which will include the chicken coup as part of it's structure so their body heat will keep plants warmer during the night. The chickens will be used to eat seeds, grubs, scratch out weeds and fertilise our vegetable beds, using chicken tractors too.
In addition as part of the greenhouse I'd ideally like to include an aquaponics system, where lettuce & other vegetables could be grown during colder months. With aquaponics, it should be part of the design to include breeding & keeping of fish (Or - preferably freshwater crayfish - which are apparently delicious on the BBQ!), whose faeces is used to provide all the required nutrient for the plants being grown (In turn these plant's roots will help clean & filter the water as a continuous cycle. Small pumps will oxygenate the water, possibly backed up by solar power - haven't decided on this yet).
The greenhouse is also intended to be used for sprouting seedlings, but will also be designed to be self-watering, using rain water collected from part of the house's roof. Some considerable thinking and design will need to go into all of this, but it'll be a very worthwhile project to enhance our other food growing projects.

(2). It looks as if I'll need to invest in a cheap 4WD K-Truck and be-friend some local farmers who might give us their waste rice husks, straw & bran which I can use to make compost. In addition I'll need to either get donated horse manure, or buy it by the bag-full. Hopefully the former. I'd like to also collect seaweed for adding to the compost. This soil production & enhancement is intended for use in our raised beds. Compost may take up to 3 months to produce & require turning over a few times, so again - this needs to be done at an early stage as autumn sets in. I'll need to find a suitable K-truck soon. I'd wanted to avoid getting yet another vehicle, but it's a necessity for this project I think!

(3). I feel I've learnt a lot about growing food these last two years, combined with what I learnt in the PDC course and I can see quite obvious mistakes in how we've been growing foods so far, not least lack of mulch and management of foods growing. Whilst away in NZ many of our crops were lost to weeds, which was a shame - although I'd half expected this to happen without being there to care for them. Still, it was a worthwhile sacrifice...By contrast we had tomato plants sprout from seeds of dropped tomatoes last year, which has been interesting. By far - our crops this year have been tomatoes and pumpkin! Fortunately we have been able to give much away without going to waste, consuming ourselves and exchanging for other things with local friends who grow their own foods too.

Our garden beds will be raised and built with the intention of using chicken tractors to clear & fertilise the soil, ready to planting. So our existing garden beds will be changed considerably for next year. In addition I want to make some raised beds in the section of the garden to the right of the lounge's view. Here would be ideal for growing pumpkins - as this year they've taken over almost an entire vegetable bed! This development means the chicken run & greenhouse should be one of the first projects to be tackled.

(4). By the SE corner of the garden is an old corrugated animal shed currently used for storage.
It's roof will be useful for collecting rainwater. This in turn will fill a duck pond, whose overflow will be piped to various fruit tree saplings, since duck effluent is very high in valuable nutrient.
I'm hoping the ducks will be comfortable living in the garden, taking care of eating grubs and slugs & so naturally contributing to pest control. They too will lay eggs and also act as guards of sorts for our property. Ducks also eat grass, so they will hopefully help to relieve the need to cut the grass so much in future. Ducks also fertilise the ground well. Trees should also have plenty of comfrey to provide nitrogen & mulch for their healthy growth.

(5). Phil Cashman has made some excellent solutions for worm farms & for producing worm juice, so this is something I'll be shamelessly copying. It'll be placed near the chicken coup, so that some food scraps will go to the birds and others will go to the worms, who in turn will make excellent worm juice & compost, ready for giving life to plans in our newly raised vegetable beds.

(6). During the Permaculture course we learnt that bee hives don't need regular maintenance at all. There are hives such as the Perone design which can be left for as much as a year without any interference. Both my wife & I noticed a lot more more bees in the garden this year than last, possibly due to the clover flowers all over the ground as well as the flowers on our established shrubs and newly planted flowers. These are of course important - as bees pollinate the entire garden and we've noticed the difference too. So this is one reason why I'd like to have bees. Hives would probably be in quiet area(s) of our forest. Not least, it would be amazing to have native Japanese bees & their honey if we can. It just so happens that Phil Cashman trained with the best known natural Japanese honey bee keeper some years ago. Another reason to pick his brains!!

(7). We need to ask some nearby neighbours - who have a large stash of rocks of varying sizes - if we can use these for improving the driveway entrance to our home, and as wall materials for ponds, or to replace the rocks around our existing garden firepit (Which disintegrate with heat!) yet another reason for needing a K-Truck, I think...

(8). I have heard there are locals who lend out goats to people with land that can feed them. Currently I'm using a petrol powered strimmer, which does a fast job of clearing grasses and clover, but I'd far rather the grasses were neatly cut by more natural means. Would require protection of tree saplings & other plants we wouldn't want eaten - but a much better solution than working to clear gardens. Their manure is also valuable nutrient for the ground.

(9). There will be a lot of pruning to do for not just existing flowering & fruiting shrubs but also long established trees that had been neglected by the house's previous elderly owners. Also I need to figure out why some of our young trees have died. A fig which was doing so well before has recently died. Also we've had little success with citrus trees. Have replaced those that failed with others placed in warmer locations, so we'll see how they go. Perhaps I need to care for these better. More watering, worm juice & mulching methinks...? Must also do some PH testing. I have the kit but haven't got around to this.

(10). And finally (for the garden at least!), as pure luxury - I'd really like to make a swimming pool for our family on the South Side of the house, where we had a kid's paddling pool this summer. I have fond memories of having a pool at home in the UK (Which I restored with very little financial expense from a horrid slushy bog that had been abandoned for years!). It's amazing to dive into a cold pool on a cool morning bleary eyed. By the time I would reach the other side in my old pool in England, I'd be wide awake and ready for the day ahead!

It wouldn't be a chemical pool which requires much cleaning, maintenance and expense, but a re-circulating pool whose pure well-water is purified by a well oxygenated pond (of equal volume) with plenty of purifiction plants and pond-life to cleanse the water before it's passed through a sand filter and re-introduced into the pool.
Provided it's well oxygenated, it should remain algae free, I think. This needs careful consideration, so perhaps I might build a pond (Which the ducks cannot get into, or they'll make a mess of it!) first & see about using it to purify a children's paddling pool we put out this year - and if that works, then we can dig the ground and make a proper pool for 2015, complete with roof & sliding door glass enclosure, so insects and mosquitoes can be kept out - for night-time dips!

Sometimes it's a struggle to continue working, but I do feel a renewed energy for making progress. Vision, if you will.

As long as I can keep it up, in around 5 years we should have a fantastic place that looks after us with more & more as the years go on whilst teaching our children the essentials to the healthiest ways to live... The more we do, the better it'll look after us and hopefully a small community of like minded people we share with locally.

With regard to the house, we also have a few projects in the pipeline that I'd like to complete before spring of next year - time & funds allowing:

(1) The Wardrobe for the children's bedroom / audio cabinet for dining room is nearing completion from Arnie and should be ready very shortly. This will allow us to finally complete the children's bedroom and begin to use it. During the Obon break this week I did a trip to bring the last 5 tonnes or so of traditional roof tiles from Shodoshima and with it I brought my wife's Piano, which we anticipate will also be housed in the children's bedroom. Till now these two rooms have been used for storing bedding. I recently completed some shelving in the wardrobe upstairs so the bedding can go there. Everything needs to have it's place so we can keep a well organised household. The easier it is to keep tidy, the more organised it will stay.

Two beautiful large rectangular tables made from reclaimed wood were completed by James Renyolds, a carpenter friend based near Tateyama - earlier this year. The plan is to have them both form a square and provide enough seating for up to 14 people in the dining room. For now only one table will be in there, as the other is in use in the kitchen (Until Arnie builds the island we intend for the middle there). We still need to find some suitable chairs to accompany these tables and I'm occasionally visiting in my continuing search for the right ones.

I'm also in the process of finishing painting a beautiful replica of a Skygarden pendant light to be hung in the centre of the room. Soon the dining room & children's bedroom will be finally in use as intended.

(2). I must clean the chimney flue before winter comes - We have the equipment to do this, so it shouldn't take too long!

(3). Our little boy who is still not two years old - has made a great job of demonstrating how weak the paper is on the shoji doors.
My wife needs to find suitably strengthened / plasticised paper to replace this with before the winter sets in!

(4). The entrance doors are currently wooden ones which are draughty and let in insects during warmer months. The mosquito netting is almost a joke as these are so ill-fitting with rubber seals broken off the sides. I'd like to replace all of these doors with good quality aluminium doors & frame - complete with decent security locks. Arnie would be our man to fit these. We won't be having the same company do the job as before! In addition I also need to finish the colouring on the wood they installed in our lounge. That doesn't take long at all.

(5). The earth floor in the entrance area is a source of dirt & musty smells and it's perimeter allows the entry of insects from under the house during the warmer months. This perimeter will all be sealed off and cement poured, to make a level floor. From there we'll either make a cobbled flooring with white & black cobble finish in an attractive pattern (Not very traditional, but it'll look beautiful in a sort of Portuguese / Spanish style) or if slipperyness with wet shoes is a concern, we'll do a more traditionally Japanese graveled concrete surface. I'd far prefer the cobble stones though. Longer lasting too... The house isn't about keeping to traditional Japanese design, it's about modification to our needs & tastes.

(6). The exterior earth wall white covering has still not been repaired and is unsightly. I'll repair these during the colder months when mosquitoes aren't biting any more & probably repaint the white parts. May also creosote some of the wood, for added aesthetics. I have also bought fittings for hanging a hammock outside, which I'll do soon. Neither my wife nor I have much time to relax these days, but our daughter will like it!

(7). Both Engawa walkways around the South & West sides of the house need light cosmetic restoration work & improved lighting (Which we already have stored away). Not least I want to plaster the walls on the west run (We stripped off some nasty synthetic fibre wallpaper and now it's just bare concrete) so we can put down carpet tiles, which will be cleaner and warmer during the winter too.

(8). I'd promised my wife to make a pretty letter box (Rather than have her buy a ready made one!) to put in the front entrance. Will do this too!

There are always many projects to complete. These are just some of those I hope to complete before summer comes around again. There will be late night and weekends spent working, but progress won't happen without the necessary hard labour.

One grand idea is to replace the rear South West corner of the house with a new modern large bathroom & utilities room, together with a better garden tools shed. This is a large project though - which will incur considerable expense for Arnie to do properly. The idea is that each room we complete will provide a great atmosphere and well thought out space for it's intended use.
There's a plan in progress to raise the funds for this project - which I'll reveal when it comes to fruition.
It's a somewhat spiritual business story success I'm enjoying watching slowly develop in the UK. More on this later though - as the story will be best told in full, rather than in parts.

With each improvement we make, I see my wife working a little less hard on keeping the house clean & tidy - a measure of success, perhaps. Once the house is finished I can finally get onto making buildings outside and I have big plans for this, the 15 tons of traditional tile sitting outside around my workshop area are part of the glint in my eye. There are lots of dreams yet to be fulfilled but that's half the fun of a home project like this, I guess.

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