Friday, March 31, 2006

Magnolia buds

Magnolia buds on the 31st march, Rhoslefain Posted by Picasa

This tree is growing just outside the front door of the house and was a birthday present from Naughty Morty to me a few years back. What i love about this apart from its flowers is the fact for the last two or three years it has flowered first exactly on my birthday, at the end of march, which does make it the perfect present for me, except.. not this year, as with the daffs, definitely later this year, - so make sure you come back to the chickenshack blog soon to catch the next installment of this gripping natural drama!

How early was your spring?

How early was your spring? Posted by Picasa

With climate change upon us the seasons are definitely shifting. Spring is being noted to be coming earlier and earlier each year. Well this year was a slight exception, as we had a very cold February and March, which held things back from coming too early. Daffodils are a good indicator as they are so noticeable and they are common around the whole country. My Father recently commented that they were rarely up by my birthday - 27th March when I was very young, of course we regularly hsee them by mid march or earlier nowerdays.
Living in Wales as I do, we are very aware of St David's day, which is March 1st and many people celebrate the saint by wearing the daffodil on that day. There is big industry in the channel isles supplying cut flowers for just such occasions, as of course there are never daffs in Wales that early in the year, until recently when they have been more and more noticeable even as early as March 1st. But not this year, so i am choosing to take that as a positive!

Mulching the taters

I have planted the spuds and ridged them up, so that the tubers are buried deeply and now i want to build a thick mulch layer on top. The point of the mulch of course is that it will be well rotten when we come to harvest so all that goodness will be dug into teh ground when we harvest. It should suppress any surface weeds and keep the ground nice and moist - thats is the chooks don't scratch it all off, which is a high probability.

I am using last years half rotted bracken, should do the job nicely. Of course in the old days before all that mechanically produced straw was available, bracken was used a lot for animal bedding. It breaks down well under the hoofs of the animals and all that manure as well makes a rich potash rich compost. This would have been the main foeeding up for the domestic veg beds, so it feels approprite for us to do the same Posted by Picasa

Planting spuds. I always try and get my main crop of spuds in before easter, its a nice feeling to know that spring is really on the way. I am trying out a variety Dawn ordred out of the heritage seed catalogue, cant remember the name, but we will see how they do. I usually get seed from he local farmer's co-op Posted by Picasa

Monday, March 27, 2006

Its the dream team!

Its the dream team, Myself, Sarah and Mike at CAT yesterday.... well the BPG field trip was a good outing a chance to firm up a lot of ideas for the three of us, who will working together on the Chickenshack permaculture design course in May. There are still places available by the way - so get 'em while they're hot as they say! We are really looking forward to doing it, it will be such an energising and challenging experience for us - but i think most of all i am looking forward to the potential group dynamic, which was certainly a great feature of this group this weekend and an inspiration for us to put together a really good course in the summer. Posted by Picasa

BPG at large

Here are some of the Bristol Permaculture group who came for a visit this weekend, spending half a day at Chickenshack and teh following day at the Centre for Alternative Technology. A big thanks to everyone who came, I really enjoyed meeting the group and hope to get a chance to work with some of you in the future. We had a fun night at the Corris hostel and a few jars in the Slaters pub there in the village wtih plenty of talk about various projects, new project ideas, housing co-ops, cummunity supported agriculture and all that stuff.  Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Whats up at CAT?

This is the new multi level display on the site of the old wind pavillion at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth. It is designed by and is being project managed by Peter and Carrie Canham, who are ex- members of chickenshack by the way, and i think the design was completed whilst still here - so this is a moment for us to bathe in their reflected glory! There is obviously a way to go before completion, but i heard the April 8th mentioned as an opening day, but thats a bit hard to believe, even if this pic was taken a month back. I will post some pics of the finished item when its open. Its certainly going to transform the old site Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Y Dolydd, Llanfyllin Workhouse

The pic is of Llanfyllin workhouse, Y Dolydd, its a derelict building that is now held in trust with the intention of developing it as a community asset. perhaps a mixture of residential flats, creative spaces, retail units, a historical interpretation centre and a whole lot more.
I have friends who are involved in the comittee and also the annual festival that is growing up around it. I have pitched the idea of a forest garden workshop at the event.
but much more importantly this could be a signiture project for the whole of the borders region, what we call the Welsh Marches, there are lots of creative people, teens etc. but not much going on and little opportunity of that sort. I see it as a potnetial catalyst for the whole area
anyway check out those courtyards, the building is absolutely massive, it was last used as an outdoor education centre in the 80's. Imagine being able to glass over ne of those quadrangles - on a south facing view, it'll be a mini eden project.
It s big part of local history, there are people in the village still who spent their child hood in the workhouse, it was one of the worst aspects of victorian thinking. people had very hard loveless lives there, it was separted as it is to keep men and womens, children and elderly apart, families were split up deliberately, and they had to do real demeaning work and were half starved on their gruel diet. It was important to the people at the time that the poor had really bad food- they wanted them to suffer and be grateful for it. That it is why its so important that it is saved and becomes and asset of the community, it could be a centre of innovation for the whole region. The comittee can see some of the possibilities but maybe not the bigger picture, which is what it will take to be able to save the building, i will keep you posted, but i want to get involved in this, I can see a big future for this building... Posted by Picasa

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Guardian advert

Hi, especially if you've found us via the advert in the Guardian and are a little mystified. Advertising there was a deliberate experiment to see if we could attract interest from as broad a spectrum of people and interest as we can. We really want to fill all 20 places as we have such an interesting course lined up this year and the more diverse the people in the group, the better it gets!

The 2 week course we are offering is a lot more than a study holiday, although you can view it as such. You will be camped in a beautiful tree lined field in the heart of Snodownia mountains withits babbling streams, starry skies and the peace and noise of nature all around. Space to think, space to learn, space to feel, for many it can be quite a big emotional experience as well by the fact that it is itself a powerful affirmation of some of your more deeply held views and feelings about the world we live in. Permaculture is a challenge to oneself to take part, it is in part about understanding change, living systems are constantly moving and therefore can be directed and moulded in a much more harmonious, symbiotic way. By learning from nature's patterning it is possible to derive a broader approach to life in general, an approach that embodies sustainability and personal empowerment.

IF that sounds too wishy washy then here's another view, it is a set curriculum that takes you through all the principles and best practice examples of how ecological, or dynamic living systems shall we say, really work; Landscapes, gardens, buildings, anything really. Incredible resource efficiency, recycling, low inputs, big outputs, sustainability, low maintenance, are all features of natural systems, and the more we can understand what makes them so productive the more we can apply that insight to what we design and build ourselves.

So get on board, get in touch, download the sign up form, it will be two weeks you will never forget!

PS there are some problems with the info line so it is not active yet, but please email us at

Monday, March 13, 2006

Schools gardens project

Well I am very excited today, have just returned from an interview with a cluster of 10 schools down in reading, who are interested in forest gardens. Well more exactly they didn't realise they were interested in forest gardens until me and my mate Dave did our presentation to them. Schools are having to incorporate things like sustainable development into their lessons, so having a really green garden, using recycled materials and perrennial plants is going to be a great asset for them. These schools have managed to raise some dosh for gardens, I was worrying they thought they were going to get a Titmarsh type TV make over - he have assured them that is not what is going to happen!

It is exciting for us as we want to develop a specialism in this area, as we are both ex teachers we can understand some of the needs and constraints that schools have to contend with and of course are dead keen to promote permaculture inspired gardens... lets hope we are onto something here! more news to follow soon!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Solar water heating is bloody fantastic!

Well its just above freezing outside this morning, but the air is clear and the sun is shining quite strongly. Now the snow on the solar panels has melted I have just checked the temperature - its 58 degrees c up there and the hot water tank in the house is heating up nicely - amazing.

Spring snow in Wales. Here is the house this monring after another fresh snowfall, and woven willow fence, now finished, that Dawn and Jo were working on a week or so ago

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Permaculture on TV

An 8-part BBC2 TV series called It Isn’t Easy Being Green will be starting with a double episode on Tuesday 28th March.

Patrick Whitefield, author of The Earth Care Manual, helps couple Bridgit and Richard Strawbridge as they renovate their new property and land using permaculture design principles.

As far as I know this is the first permaculture programme of its kind on UK television, hopefully the first of many. Well worth staying in for!

found this on
lets hope it generates some interest in permaculture in general. I am especially hoping its a good program as its coming on 6 weeks before the Chickenshack course kicks off. I think we actually clash with a course Patrick himself is running at Ragman's lane farm in Glos. but the prospect of some publicity is exciting. Its about time actually! permaculture is an idea whose time has come, lets hope BBC2 do it justice.

Cadair Idris mountain this morning after a snow fall

Snow in Early spring, these lambs were born a day or two ago, they are loving the sunshine, but that cold whitestuff, not so sure about that. The sheep on the farms here are well looked after, the pregnant ewe's are kept in the barn, and only let out when their lambs are safe and strong. Welsh spring lamb is highly prized across Europe, especially Italy - its about as good as it gets, all they eat is fresh green grass grown in open upland pasture and fesh sea breezes. Its not without its costs however, I am not sure if this style of small-scale upland farming is economic without EU subsidy and the sheep's grazing and cloven feet erode the landscape. Much of the British uplands would return to natural mixed forest and heath were it not for the constant nibbling of our woolly friends - one of the most significant factors in the shaping of much of the British landscape.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Here is Bakker, the other Journey man, in costume

Journeymen builders

We were visited by two journeyman brickies from North Germany last week. The costume dates back to the builders guild of the Middle ages, and is an essential part of a tradition that represents a 500 year unbroken tradition for skilled craftsmen. They undertake to make a journey, wearning the traditional costume and carrying the tools of their trade. These guys have been all over in the last three of four years, getting experience on all sorts of things. They had been to eastern Europe, Africa, now UK

Here is our most recent volunteer Jo, on a day out at the Centre for Alternative Technology. I think she is marvelling at the rammed earth, pise de terre, wall in the info centre there, most impressive. It's made from sub soil, compressed in a mould, in situ. Each layer adds a geological stripe to the wall. The idea is that the sun shines through the ceiling of the building and onto the wall, using its mass as a heat-sink to help maintain a constant internal temperature - like a huge in built storage heater.