Permaculture at Chickenshack
Chickenshack, founded in 1994 is a housing co-op based in North Wales. It has a long standing commitment to permaculture design and has hosted many related courses, gatherings and events there since then. I am a founding member and this is my blog of some of what I have learned along the way.
Friday, February 17, 2006
Thursday, February 16, 2006
We've got a volunteer this week
We are getting more into this wwoof thing, as our second volunteer this year arrives for a few days. Here is volunteer Jo all teh way from sunny Australia, on left and Dawn from Chickenshack, working away in the field today weaving a living willow fence. There is a very chilly wind blowing off the sea today, but its dry and the sun has broken through a few times. Dawn has been playing with this little area for a while, its the entrance to the main veggie garden, so its an important area and it will be great to make it look really nice and welcoming. Behind the screen is a frog pond, it may not look like much but its like Stingfellows in there at the right time of year. People have on occasion stepped into the pond in the dark - its surprisingly deep for its size, hence the need to give it more of a border.
Sunday, February 12, 2006
First booking on course.
First booking on course confirmed today. Thanks Ben!
The pic is of mid summer sunrise here a couple of years ago, and it felt approprate to mark the fact that we have taken the first booking for the permaculutre course here in May. A new dawn and all that, its the first one we have done since 1997 and we really loking forward to doing it. One down, only 19 places left......get 'em while they're hot kids!
Its very exciting for us to be thinking about hosting a design course here again, they can pretty amazing expereinces for all concerend. Also just the prospect of having 25 or so people here staying here at the same time, all that energy. Now I know the name fo the first participant, someone who has volunteered here a couple of times previously, so someone we know already, but it leaves me wondering who else we will find. Choosing Late May as the time to hold it is deliberate not least becauseit is a time of mounting energy, long evenings, dewy cold nights as spring enters into summer.
It is into February now and although still wintery, the prospect of spring now looms. Emerging from the long tunnel of winter. I dont know if it wales especially that makes feel so aware of seasons, but it certainly a strong feeling. For a nation that celebrates the daffodil, that flower that best embodies the arrival of spring, it is obvious that seasonality has always been a strong flavour of Wales.
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Ugni Mollinae. This is one of my favourite plants at the moment, one i want to use in forest gardens. Myself and my mate Dave work in as a partnership called Sector 39, sustainable design. He's a graphic designer and photographer and education resources writer, and like me he is passionately interested in forest gardens and fresh local food. We are currently writing a bid to design forest garden plots for inner city junior schools in Reading, I am definitely going to be using this plant! its of the Myrtle family and is unique to Chile as far as I can tell, but it seems to like our climate, well it grows well on the roof garden at RISC and I have one in my tunnel here. The berries last for months and are delicious, Queen Victoria is quoted to have declared it the 'most exquisite of fruits' on first tasting one of the very first specemins to reach these shores. You can make a tea from teh leaves as well but I have not tried that yet. Dave has propagated cuttings from the shoots.
Bristol Permaculture group come for a visit
This is a pic of Bristol permaculture group on a weekend visit here in 2003, we spent a day at CAT, then stayed at the Corris hostel, before coming here for a session on the Sunday. They are bringing a group again in March this year. I will be teaching the chickenshack permaculture design course with Sarah Pugh, pictured in the middle of the group here, supported by Mike Feingold, who is acting as a kind of mentor I guess. sarah has been team teaching with him for a few courses now. Its a very excting team to be working with, so the field visit next month will be a bit of a dry run for us, get us seriously thinking about the course in May.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
Low impact Tourism
So here we are living on a hillside in snowdonia, it reallu is beautiful, its tranquil, it offers an ideal kind of life in many ways, however it can be damm hard to make a living some times. Over the years here there has been a fair turnover of people, and i think the main reason that people have moved on is to do with the remoteness and the fact that it really is limited in the scope of the kind of work you can do in the area. Tje co-op has attracting very capeable people in the main, very eengaged with wha they are doing, and an ara such as this offers only so much opportunity.
So here is the plan, turn that challenge of remoteness into an advantage and get into offering the bungalow space here out as a holiday let. We are going to give it a total refurb, get it reall cosy in there, and start advertising it as a holiday bungalow. As a group we are not sure about it all entirely, it is a big change and creates new responsibilites for us.
If we can stick to our current plan it might be available from as soon as June! but that depends on decisions not yet fully made, there is still plenty for us to resolve and of course always limited opportunities to meet to discuss it.
so watch this space!
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Competition in nature
Here are a couple of quotes from Porritt's new book on capitalism and the environment (see a review). Heavy reading maybe, but some very important ideas in it. Economists are fixated on competition as the driving force for efficency, and claim a simple interpretation of Darwinism to justify their statement. This i think is a gross misunderstanding.
Biologist Lewis Thosmas is quoted as saying, "the urge to form partnerships, to link up in collaborative arrangements is perhaps the oldest, strongest and most fundamental force in nature. There are no solitary, free living creatures; every form of life is dependent on other forms."
Donella Matthews put it this way, and this is brilliant.
"Economics says: compete. Only by pitting yourself against a worthy opponent will you perform efficiently. The reward for sucessful competition will be growth. The Earth says: compete yes, but keep your competition within bounds. Don't annihilate. Take only what you need. Leave your cometitor enough to live. Wherever possible dont compete, cooperate. Pollinate each other, create shelter for each other, build firm structures that can lift small species to the light. Pass around the nutrients, share the territory. Some kinds of excellence rise out of competition; other kinds rise from cooperation. YOu are not in a war, you are in a community."
Monday, February 06, 2006
Welcome to the digital age
When I returned from my stint in the colonies as it were in 1992, I had never used a computer. A few months later I was teaching computer studies to 15 year olds in a school in Bracknell and here I am now 14 years later, sat writing a permaculture weblog, checking out my on line book sales and answering emails from people from australia who are interested in permaculture here in the UK. Its all pretty fantastical really. This week I have been helping put together a data base for trainers in developing countries, mainly africa, sat in Wales, for an organisatin in the south of england with a programmer who is a welsh man living in Quebec. Global or what?
Today I am setting up the chickenshack permaculture information line, our 24/7 information hotline, to pick up calls from people interested in our coming design course. What with being on the cover of the new Diggers and Dreamers and having had an appearance as a featured home on a BBC Wales program we might even end up famous! So just in case we ever get that flood of calls we will be set up for it.
The line is one of those 0870 things that takes you into what they call a call management system. callers get charged something like like 6p a minute, and chickenshack earn something like 2.5 of it back as an income - which in turn pays for the service. I know these systmes can be hateful and infuriating, however ours goes straight to voice mail on option 1 with 3 other recorded information lines on subsequent options. its seems to be the best option - using technology for its best effect and only people genuinely interested in the information have to pay anything for it via a few pence on a phone call. So i hope it works well for people.
The service is from PC-Q a communications specialist in Llanidloes, affiliate partner to the sector39 media and design partnership i work with.
Friday, February 03, 2006
Some history of the farm
Well what I know if the history of our little slice of mountainside is this; it was put on the market as a working hill farm with I dont know, 25 - 30 acres of land in teh Mid 80's. The previous owners, the Wilsons I believe having retired to Bryncrug. According to 'Aberdyfi, a past recalled' a local history of the region, Brynllwyn and other farms of this size had been run as small holdings since at least the begining of the 19th century. TGhe book recalls the 1830's and indeed the census data for 1831 anf 1841 show a small family of a couple (I think they might have been a brother and sister, possibly called Jones) and a servant living here. They would have kept a pig, some chickens and a few cows, growing veg in a strip in the field. Life was largly self sufficient, hard work and little money. Most men then worked on either the big estate farms or at Tonfanau quarry. Interestingly the book remembers the importance of the income generated by the woman, who collected seaweed from Tonfanau beech, sending it by train to Machynlleth and beyond where it would have been composted as plant feed.
This timeless lifestyle has changed of course very rapidly since the 1940's post war boom, and many remember those times as typified by strong local community and very hard work and fairly spartan living. Good old days pah! I have heard said more than once by those that remember that generation. So Brynllwyn was put on the market in the Mid 80's and failed to attract a buyer, that scale of upland farming was simply not economic to justify the investment. Plus as many young people have turned their backs on rural employment it fits the trend of the times. Consequently the builings and land were separated and sold off at auction in 2 separate lots. A neighbouring small farmer took the land and stone barn, the house, outbuildingss, paddock and wetland were bought by a downshifting english couple, who converted it into a holiday business. Frank Everard spent 4 years converting the outbuildings a stable and series of cattle barns into holiday lets and they developed a fairly sucessful business here.
It was however a lot of work for a couple and eventually their marriage faltered and the place was once again on the market. It remained there for 4 years, with i think a few short term tenants, but it had been empty for some time when we first arrived to view it December 1994. I think the Everards had acquired the place for about £35k, but during their tenure houses proces rose sharply, plus of course they did a lot of work on the place. Consequently it was on the market for £160k, although the asking price, after the early 90's housing crash had slipped to £120K. Coming in with an offer of £110k Chickenshack housing co-op managed to secure the place, although it took a full 9 months and a reduced offer of only £100k before we were able to actually raise enough money. It was the Saturday evening of Glastonbury festival 1995 when the call came from our soliciter saying he was about to formerly exchange contracts. We moved in on 1st August of that year.