Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Workhouse permaculture

So I am now fully invovled with the Workhouse project over in Llanfyllin and working hard to incorporate permaculture design approaches at the heart of the project. We have just held our second Introduction to Permaculture Weekend and are planning for a May 2 week PDC. There is a growing community of likeminded people here and I am seeing as a potential place to base myself for developing future activities, taking on one of the beautifully restored workshops as a base and developing a whole range of related courses. The feedback from teh course here at the weekend leads me to believe there really is a rapidly developing interest in the whole area of edible landscaping, sustainable agriculture and food growing as well as biodiversity and low impact living.

I feel like I have waited a long time for this to happen, so I am gearing up to be able to rise to the interest and demand. I am working with the my Sector39 partnership idea again, to put together a team of sustainability practitioners to run courses and offer landscape design and build services. I am also thrilled to be working with green woods craftsmen adn we are offering yurt building courses and looking at the possibility of doing timber framing, charcoaling and more types of of courses along those lines.

I am excited and hopeful that the Workhouse can quickly fill its potnetial as a hub for these kinds of activites for the whole area. All the lastest course info will be posted on the sector39.co.uk site and the Workhouse one as well.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Permaculture courses for 2009

I have been busy developing courses idea for the Workhouse, now that I am working over there a lot of the time. And here is the start of a programme, lots of ideas for more, but it takes a while to develop a new course. We are doing our very first yurt building ones, and there are some excellent photos on Ian Watts eco blog who has just done a similar course elsewhere.

I was invited over to Normandy last month to run a 5 day forest gardening and intro to permaculture course over there. It went well, was very interesting to see a bit of the Normandy countryside and stay with Douglas and Hayley. Here is a link to a photo dairy of the course and some shots of their land over there. I went with Hannah and I think we both found it very inspiring. Doug and Hay are interested in teh idea of a summer permaculture camp over there. They have done some fabulous eco-rennovation work on some of the buildings and a built a super new courses barn. I can I amagine how there could be lots to do adn get invovled with if we did try adn run something like that. The introduction to permaculture course we ran certainly got people thinking and talking over there, so its fun think of the possibility of going back to do a full PDC at some point.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Forest Garden at Chickenshack

A riot of useful perennials at the heart of the forest garden at Chickenshack. Mints, lemon balms, sages, elacampagne, yarrow, surrounding apple, and other fruit trees. Deep and shallow rooted plants cycling nutrients and building up a healthy population of beneficial insects and microbes.

Over the years the heavily overgrazing and tired fields at Chickenshack have transformed in a diverse rich and productive landscape. It took me three years of quite intensive work to get back on top of the part of the garden after it had become seriously over grown, transplanting lots of plants I had grown on from the Roof Garden in RISC. Others I bought in. I had to scythe down weeds and mulch heavily to surpress the nettles and grasses to get the herb and fruiting layers strongly established.

Chickenshack Garden

Shot of the veg garden at Chickenshack in 2008. My last summer there, its really starting to develop now and coming to life. We have fed the soil with compost, green manures and seaweed and worked hard to remove the bindweed and buttercup that had invaded. The tired rainwashed soils have really come back to life and been re structured by careful nurturing. There are lots of Marigolds in the foreground, which aside from being edible and useful in many ways they are an excellent companion plant and are eay to save seed from to regrow. The Stone wall provides shelter and is a heat sink as well, soaking up the sun on a warm day and creating useful microclimate.


Don't you just love that word... Stromatalites... I don't get the chance to use it that often so i like to savour the opportunities when I do. I used a pic of them, these strange shapeless rocky nodules growing on a shallow sea in a talk I give on the Introduction to permaculutre course at the Workhouse the other weekend. They are not exactly the oldest living organisam on the planet, but they are crucially the very first ones to breath in Co2 and breath out oxygen. They turn up in the fossil record about 3 1/2 billion years ago, and were widespread around the globe. You can still find them in certain special places, like off Western Autralia. Before them there was no oxygen in the planet's atmosphere, we have a lot to thank them for, as oxygen breathing organisms ourselves.

I want to thank everyone who came on the Permaculture course at the Workhouse, the first of what I hope will be many we do there. Its kind of interesting running one in the shell of an empty building, right at the beginning of a new project. A blank canvas to apply your imagination to.

we are planning another permaculture weekend in March, and a yurt making weekend course in April, again both at the Workhouse. I am currently posting information about m courses and project on the Sector39 website, the which is the permaculture design team i work with to develop courses and permaculture projects.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Permaculture design courses

I am very excited to announce that I have 2 introduction to Permaculture design courses coming up in October and November.

A 2 day introduction to permaculture at the Workhouse on October 25th/ 26th

And a 5 day course in Normandy, with Forest Gardens practical as well as an introduction to Permaculture design. November 24th- 28th.

There are links to both a sector39.co.uk or email me directly if you are interested

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

All change at Chickenshack

What a summer its been! Although the weather has been consistently terrible, so many days of leaden skies and relentless rain, in some ways it has also been one of the best. What has made it so good has been the volunteers. i think we have had more this year than ever before. I have taken that as a sign that more people are really taking it into their own hands to find out more about what is going on out there and voting with their feet to get involved with permaculture projects, organic farms, plots, diggers and dreamers all!

Well a huge thanks to all of you, Ute, Ian, Kristina and Lena, Jen and Liz, Hilary, Claire, Abi, Mickiel, and of course Gabe, who was and is such a star. (there were more.. sorry if i have forgotten you, but you have not been forgotten) A pleasure to meet and have all of you staying with us at Chickenshack and the garden and land have never looked so good after all your hard work. Shame the weather didn't turn up to bless all that hard work with a bit of sunshie to make it all grow better. The onions did best, in the raised beds started by the Israeli vols last year, it has inspired us to do more next year.

Talking of inspiration, I too have been inspired, so much so that I am moving on myself. How can that be? I hear you say, leave this little paradise yo have worked for 15 odd years to nurture it into life. Well there in lies the answer, its been a long time, and now we have passed the 13 year anniversary of living there, I feel the tug of a new challenge. Permaculture is coming of age too, suddenly peopel are starting to 'get' it, to understand how it is so much more than gardening. So my years clinging on the side of a mountainin the wilderness are over adn I am moving to a mroe central location, llanfyllin, which is home to a brand new and i think most exciting proejct of all.

All my years of grass roots projects, of CAT, Chickenshack and Permaculture, its chance to offer up what i might have learned along the way to breath life into something new, with a much higher profile and where i hope to bring permaculture to a much broader and I think hungry ( may beliterally) audience. As Cuban permaculture enthusiast Roberto Perez says on his staggering slideshow of how community farms have saved a antion of 8 million people from starvation, never forget how important food is. you need to eat everyday, and we take all that so much for granted.

SO if you are reading this, come and get involved a the Workhouse if its in your area, or go to the permaculture association site www.permaculture.org.uk and find out what's going on in your area.

So long everyone and thanks for all the encouragement and feedback over the year, i will be starting a new blog soon on the Workhouse and will post a link to it here.

Love to you all


Monday, June 30, 2008

Local food fair

This was a great little event... and perhaps a sign of things to come. Local food fayre, selling local produce directly to well local people. With food and oil prices rocketing one is left wondering how well we will be able to afford supermarket produce in the future.. all those food miles and processing has to be paid for somehow so finding ways to sell directly locally is going to be an important part of the mix of responses and solutions. This was in Machynlleth, a small community that has always be pro-active kick starting these kind of things, hopefully this is a sign of many more to come. This is also the kind of thing I want to see happening at Workhouse project, which I see as becoming a key focal point for local community and economy building, part of making our sustainability transition. Oh yes and for you all you sharp eyed people this is not a picture of local food but of a local band entertaining us while we bought our local food - all part of the mix. Bringing creativity and enterprise together.. better than listening to piped music the co-op! anyway this lot call themselves Sweet Loving Rain and two of them are ex chickenshackers! so I thought I would celebrate that fact with a picture


This post is for Ute, last month's volunteer, who is doing an amazing year long trip around the UK Wwoofing at communities and permaculture plots the whole way. She is going to have such a story to tell, her idea,, rather than write a book or diary, was to write in the form of a recipe book, a recipe from each place she visited. I loved the idea of telling a story through food - i really hope she does it. Anyway the recipe I was going to submit was a simple one, elder flowers in cider vinegar - may not sound nice to you.. and it isn't particularly - its more a medicine really. As a chronic hay fever sufferer I have tried just about everything over the years, but one natural recipe that does seem to really help is a spoonful of elderflower vinegar a day. Simply remove the flowers from the stalks and soak them in the vinegar for a few days, the sieve them off and keep in the fridge.

The elder trees weren't quite ready when Ute was here, but Kistina and Lena helped me make this and I have just had my daily dose..


Here's pic of our lovely German volunteers Kristina and Lena working hard at the Shack. (well relaxing on Aberdyfi beach) but a big thanks to both of them for all their hard work in the garden a and making elderflower champagne.

We have had a real spell of volunteers here, its been great, 4 since May, with 4 more coming this month! - we usually just have people for a week or slightly less, but we are always open to hear from people who are genuinely interested in helping out and want to learn a bit about permaculture .. and well just explore a bit of this lovely countryside here where we live. Thanks to everyone who has helped out, we really appreciate it.

Wood delivery

Well its exciting for me if noone else.. but here's what 15.8 tonnes of wood looks like and what will be keeping us warm this winter. With fuel prices rocketing it is feeling like a better and better idea that we decided to invest in our wood fueled heating system a few years back. Its a lot of work to stay on top of the wood supply, processing it and storing it, but it is a very effective and affordable way to go, and well of course more importantly sustainable. Check out the heating section on the Chickenshack website if you want to know more, but wood burning technology is actually quite complex if you want to do in a environmentally responsible way - as we discovered. The heating engineer who installed the system the very efficient heating company pointed out that burning wood on an open fire or old style burner is like burning old car tyres in terms of environmental impact- with all the smoke and particulates it produces and really inefficient.

Anyway, by logging this here I am keeping a record so we can review this in future to see how well we do, but this £600 load - I am hoping, should keep us going for a whole year.

Wood delivery

Well its exciting for me if noone else.. but here's what 15.8 tonnes of wood looks like and what will be keeping us warm this winter. With fuel prices rocketing it is feeling like a better and better idea that we decided to invest in our wood fuelled heating system a few years back. Its a lot of work to stay on top of the wood supply, processing it and storing it, but it is a very effective and affordable way to go, and well of course more importantly sustainable. Check out the heating section on the Chickenshack website if you want to know more, but wood burning technology is actually quite complex if you want to do in a environmentally responsible way - as we discovered.

Anyway, by logging this here I am keeping a record so we can review this in future to see how well we do, but this £600 load - I am hoping, should keep us going for a whole year.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Me and Leonardo..

Thanks to Dee who spotted my face on http://www.channel4.com/lifestyle/green/home.html
sharing the same page (if not the same lifestyle) as Leonardo de Caprio .. ha ha! but anyway its a chance to remind me to plug my Channel 4 blog... I would really appreciate some comments on there. .. check it out, as they say..

Tree measuring with Germans

I love Wwoofers! we have had some lovely one's over the past few years, it really brings a positive energy in the place. So thanks to Ute and Ian for all your lovely energy and enthusiasm this month, you both really helped, i can't say how much. So thanks again, the course went well and the place is pretty much put back together again and gardens are looking fab! So much mulching has been done..

I have to say more about Ute, she is on a fantastic mission, Wwoofing around Britain for a whole year, visiting communities and permaculture projects the ehole way. She is going to get such an amazing snapshot of the whole lot of us.. I am sure its going to be an amazing experience. I told her she should be writing a book, but the suggesetion was she'd rather write a recipe book, - i loved that idea... a story told in recipes... She's going out the Hebrides, Shetland even I think, she was on the Welsh leg, and Chickenshack was number 10 on her stop. (which reminds me of an old Mach panto joke, Ah Bond, back from your latest mission, how was it... well the welsh leg was a bit hairy...) never mind,, anyway.. Tree measuring... I love little stories, vignettes I believe they call them..

Anyway, Itook a pic a couple of years ago, driving north past Dolgellau, in Coed y Brennin of a really striking Wellingtonia pine I happened to notice and posted on a website. Only to be contacted by a tree measurer 2 years later who is researching into such trees, looking for particularly fine specimens and asked could I find it again and measure it and photograph it for him. So off I went with Wwoofer Ute to find this tree again so we could measure it for posterity. It was a fun little mission. anyway, for the record, 1.5m above ground level it is 9.5m in diameter and absolutely enourmous. Thanks again Ute! I want to hear stories from you on your journey and take some good wishes from Chickenshack with you.

Monday, May 26, 2008

design workshop

a key part of the course is to channel al the ideas and enthusiasm generated into a real project design exercise. Here us a view of a model of the healing courtyard at the workhouse, with a central earth-worked structure; an inner refuge, surrounded by a landscaped muli funtional space.

making magic

Shanti holding a handful of plantains. Mandy showed us the magic of common garden plants.... sometimes the humblest and commonest of grassland herbs can turn turn out to be the best for healing and medicine making. We made a healing salve from common ribwort plantain leaves harvested from the meadow.

bath room of champions

Stuey putting the finishing touches to the chickenshack field bath room deluxe. Shower bath facilities with hot and cold water! .. it was a genuine triumph of ingenuity.

Couple more images from the course.... the chickenshack veggie garden is looking good, with the green manures harvested and dug in, and the poly veg beds planted up. Here's a lovely shot of the delightful Sammi with one of her daughters.. on our site visit day to the workhouse.

more course snapshots

Busily planting a veggie bed. Permaculture encourages us to think of plants as guilds and family groups.. they don't necessarily do well as individuals. So in the this bed we are planting maize, pumpkins and beans. One of the commonest plant guilds planted around the world. The beans fix nitrogen for the maize and pumpkin, which in turn acts as a ground cover, shading out weeds and competitors, while the bens are free to climb up the maize stalks.

The second pic is Mark from the Workhouse, hard at work on the design exercise. There were three groups, who each produced a design on an area of the Workhouse. The standard for all three was very high... I really hope it can be a useful tool for the project itself. The areas examined were the 'Healing courtyard'. One of 4 internal courtyards in the building. A community garden area and the festival site itself.

course shots

Couple of images from the design course this year... Mikey boy the Scythe king, once started there's no stopping him. And the a special shout for Chris Dixon who did a fantastic session on patterning, as well as on regeneration and succession. After 18 years battling with the national parks over permission to build a low impact dwelling on his land, common sense has finally prevailed and he and Lyn are currently hard at work converting thier barn into a home.

click here to see a full size image

It was taken by Mike on Ian's camera - a really great group photo if ever I saw one.

PDC - Class of 2008

Here is the course group of 2008 on the first day.. we are playing a name game and have arranged ourselves in alphabetical order, whilst balancing on a couple of scaffold planks.


Sunday, May 04, 2008

Weather forcast and Simons boat

Here's the forecast for a main section of the design course. Sounds like a bit of everything as per usual, but hopefully nowhere near as bad as previous years - which have been terrible, surely its our turn for a good one this year.

UK Outlook for Friday 9 May 2008 to Sunday 18 May 2008:

High pressure to the north of the United Kingdom dominates at first, with lower pressure away to the south and west. Through the period the high slowly drifts further away towards Greenland, allowing low pressure to move into southern areas, and the easterly flow to eventually turn northeasterly. Although dry weather dominates, with some decent spells of sunshine, there is always the risk of thundery showers developing. There will be some over the weekend, especially across southern areas, and this threat of thundery rain or showers may extend a little northeastwards into central areas during the week. The other change will be in temperatures, generally warm or very warm at first across southern and western Britain, but expected to slowly return towards nearer normal values later.

And here... ladies and gentlemen is a pic of Simon's boat... we have waited a very long time to be able to say this ha ha... anyway she looks like a beauty..

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Simon sails away

Well he's finally done and gone and bought himself a Folkboat, which is mored down in Essex. Chickenshack will not be the same without Simon's involvement. He was there are the very beginning when it all started ad has lived here fo something like 8 years. Anyway life goes on and we are really looking forward to having Bill and Kath here when they complete their planned move.

Meanwhile its all go go here getting ready for the permaculture course... looking forward to seeing everyone in a week's time

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Permaculture design course updates

I have updated the courses section on the Chickenshack website
and will add more over the next few days. We have had quite a lot of inquiries over the last few days, so people who have not confirmed need to get back in touch. I will email everyone who has contacted me in a few days with details anyway.

We are busy planting trial beds for the poly-veg practical, and are generally getting the site ready. Having been away in London contending with the Ideal Home exhibition and finishing off the last of the school gardens I was building, I am finally home again for the duration and can concentrate fully on getting ready for the course. It starts in just three weeks! but I am sure we will be ready in time.

permaculture design course 2008

I have updated the course pages on the website, i hope they are more informative. The course is booking quite well, there are 16 places available in all and we have 10 firm bookings and there are another 6 people indicating a strong interest and several more possibles currently. So if you are thinking of booking please get in touch and let us know you are interested - if you have not paid a deposit then please make sure awe are expecting you. Its looking like we will have a small bursary fund available to subsidise course fees especially for local residents, so again please get in touch if you are interested but are worrying if you can afford the fee.

The key tutor this year is Chris Evans, a hugely experienced permaculture teacher, with 20 experience on rural permaculture projects in Nepal. Chirs last taught on a course here in 1997, so we are very excited having him back again. (He and partner Looby have recently had a baby so we are waiting confirm how many days they are available for). As well as Chris and Looby we will be working with Chris Dixon, a permaculture teacher based in North Wales

Saturday, February 02, 2008

the wall...

here it is the foundation layer of Louis' wall...

Wall building with Louis

Well its exciting for me anyway, but getting small dry stone wall built in the veg garden is something I have wanted for ages. Not least as we have so many granite rocks lying around the place we should do something with them. I have been collecting them in a pile for at least two years, adn after the course last year a couple of volunteers who had stayed behind shifted a whole lot more for us. So finally Louis, from Undergrowth housing co-op has spent the last three days building it for us. It is a real skill and the smallish and angular rocks here make it especially difficult. Its not quite finished yet but I love what he has done

Permaculture course 2008

We have jsut received the first deposit for a the course this spring! which is always very exciting for us, makes it real.. so well done Alys, and we have provisional bookings from Abi, Ross, Mandy, Pete and Mikey from Brighton as well, so its looking good.

We hope to be working with Sarah Pugh from Bristol permaculture, Chris Evans who of course was involved with Permaculture in Nepal for so long, plus lots of our old favourites.

The big difference this year i that we are working closely with the Workhouse at Llanfyllin, which has to be the most exciting new project around. Its a big old building with surrounding land, set in stunning rural Powys scenery.. and has become the home for one the best small festivals of the summer. We are very much hoping to involve several of the folk fro teh project itself and also to use the project as a sort of blank canvas on which to develop our own design ideas. The intention is to use it as a real life example whilst injecting some ideas , enthusiasm and encouragement into the project.


Monday, December 17, 2007


I have been writing a series of posts for Channel4's Green website, use the link to check it out. feedback welcome! It is an extension for the work I did on the 'Dumped', landfill site survival TV prog in the summer. which was a fun and interesting diversion back in June. I wrote a piece for CAT's Clean Slate magazine about it.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Pines Calyx and volunteers

the venue for the living roofs conference i attended last week. Beautiful green building made from rammed chalk walls with this amazing timbral domed roof. I was away attending a conference there whilst our lovely volunteers, Miki and Gil were working away on the garden here. We have had a sudden spell of people getting incontact, interested in either volunteering or wanting to know more about co-ops in general. its been really great to meet some people that way, it always re-energises the co-op when we do it.

So I am looking forward to Renie and Gaz coming next month, December volunteers. - it is making us all feel more confident about taking on more here. Like doing an amazing eco refurb of our outbuilding, i have been wanting to do that for years now.