Seedling Sanctuary…

Alas, the “Cabin in the Yard” project was cancelled before the virtual ink was dry on the graph paper (excel). The Dragons Den pitch to the wife was a solid one I thought, but the to-be space and light constraints were all too much for her and our rather tiny patio garden.

The decision was made after I had already ordered and paid for some new power tools that very morning, much to my disappointment, frustration and decreased account balance.

I guess on reflection it was the right decision, so the eco-lodge prototype for the eco-retreat will have to be built elsewhere, most likely the new allotment (so not the worst result).

So with a day off yesterday and unboxed tools screaming from their cupboard under the stairs to be used, I took it upon myself to test them out by building a seedling sanctuary / mini greenhouse, which will also get me some Brownie points with the “er indoors” as our internal living space will free from propagation units which will now be housed outdoors.

I have a new best friend, let me introduce you to the Dewalt Cordless Circular Saw (this is neither product placement nor marketing campaign – just an honest critique of an excellent tool). Why has my life been without one of these beauties for so long!

Dewalt 18v Cordless Circular Saw

I had already alerted my neighbour to a “period of intense swearing / cursing” as is customary when I do DIY. But after a full day of working, not a single expletive was uttered, except those targeted at B&Q for only providing lengths of 2.39m 2×2 and not the regulation 2.4m, which threw my measurements off (only realising this after I had cut a lot of the wood already).

The circular saw was so fast, easy and accurate, and very quickly the frame was up, with the other bits soon to follow:

Ready, set, go…
Frame up in record time…
Slats in…
Doors on, poly carbonate on…
Voila!

As I’ve stated, my joy comes from different things these days. The sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle has been replaced with calmer and more sedate activities of late, yet I get the same dopamine highs from gardening and building things as I would have thrashing out to death metal, drinking myself stupid and getting laid (with the added bonus of not having a hangover, tinnitus spikes, black outs and possibly / probably upsetting people).

“The times they are a changing”…

The Plot Thickens…

Our communal and agricultural experiment has got off to a good start. When a collective forms of six individuals (and of course family members and to-be active players), it brings together people from all walks of life, each with their own backstory and points of view.

I can honestly say that it’s been a joy to converse with people on the exact same frequency as I am, all of us thus far intent on finding out successful methods of growing ones own healthy and organic food, keeping those pesky processed sugars at bay.

The 2D Plot…

One of our group had already sketched a plan for our plot before I jumped on board, so with my new found love of Minecraft (hey it’s not just a kids game right?), I took it upon myself to “3D-ise” the blueprints he had put down on graph paper so that we could all visualise what the plot could look like and where each component would be best placed for optimal use of the land.

I was very happy with the final output, which I’ve uploaded below.

The Plot Thickens…

We will meet up at the weekend to agree the final plan and start to order the poly tunnels and greenhouse, now that all of the compost has now landed and the temporary raised beds are under construction.

Looking forward to the next steps…

Spring Equinox…

If I’m not mistaken (we can’t Google everything can we), today marks the astrological start of Spring, and as such I was up early to get a few hours in at the allotment as the sun rose boldly in the West.

Before the hard graft of relocating a couple of tonnes of compost to our “landing strip”, I took it upon myself to have a wander through the two main plots on the site, each thirty foot wide and two hundred and forty foot long, with various sized sub-plots in each.

I recorded a video walkthrough of both plots (including our “landing strip”) to see so what our green-fingered comrades have added to their sites, and what seems to work well for them so that we could take some good ideas to use for our own.

Plot A – Our Neighbours…
Plot B – Our “Landing Strip”

I also took some overhead drone footage of our plot, sadly I’m still a novice and didn’t calibrate the settings properly so it’s a bit grainy and the colour transitions aren’t great, but at least it gives us a good idea of what it looks like from above, and the Herculean task we have over the next few weeks to get the land primed quickly and ready for planting our seedlings.

Drone footage of our “Landing Strip”

I was the sole human on site for a good two hours on this new Spring morning, and I found myself transported into a different world, one devoid of stress, commitment and consumerism, just me and my thoughts as I shovelled my way to happiness. It gave me the first real glimpse of what retirement will be in five or so years, that day can’t come soon enough.

Until then, I will learn new skills, experiment with nature and bond with more people in tune with my own frequencies.

Those frequencies and conversations are already paying off, and I’m paying it forward in the shape of positive planting, the smart garden has worked wonders on the broad beans I planted just one week ago.

With a two day break from work this week, I’ll be spending both days at the allotment to give us a real kick-start, hopefully more mindfulness and ideas will flow, I’m certain it will.

The Barrow Boys…

When I first saw the fifteen tonnes of compost, the first thing that sprang to mind was the Jeff Goldblum line in Jurassic Park “That’s one big pile of shit”…

That’s one big pile of shit…

Never a truer word spoken…

We, sow the seed…

As soon as the affirmation was received that I had acquired my “in” for the communal allotment last week, my initial thoughts amusingly turned to the 1980’s sit-com, The Young Ones.

Vegetable rights and peace!

There is an episode called Sick, and part way through the anarchistic character Ryk (played by the wonderful and gone-too-soon Rik Mayall) kills Neil the Hippy (Nigel Planer) because Neil keeps repeating the phrase “We sow the seed, nature grows the seed, and then we eat the seed”, and after several minutes Ryk whacks him with the spade. He then buries the body under a load of horse manure which had been recently dumped in their back garden, only to find that ironically he has cultivated three Neils, who return in the middle of the night to taunt and haunt him. Classic.

My sister is also keen to get involved in the venture and armed with gloves, hat and wellingtons, she joined me and my wife to visit the plot today. The weather this week had been been awful, and the rain and howling winds have wrecked a lot of the hard work in laying down the cardboard “runway” prior to the dumping of the compost next week to get our no-dig operation off the ground.

Hindsight is of course a wonderful thing, and we agreed that the cardboard matting and composting needs to go hand-in-hand and not in isolation.

We started work on collecting “free timber” in the form of disused pallets and will, over the course of the next few weeks, create borders and raised beds, recycled and upcycled, costing us just a few pence in nails.

After we had stockpiled around twenty pallets, the weather turned gnarly so we headed to the garden centre next door to buy some multi-purpose compost, small seeding trays and pots (the latter which we got for free).

So today I started off with broad beans, sowing eighteen pots, and under the advice of the nice lady at the garden centre, wrapped them in a plastic bag and put them by the window to germinate.

We, sow the seed…
Nature grows the seed…
Pre-fill…
Post-fill…
Multi-sowing in action, double the fun…
All potted and watered…
It’s in the bag…

Tomorrow I’ll experiment with peas in my smart garden, no idea if it will work but it will be fun finding out.

The days of stage diving and crowd surfing at Obituary/ Napalm Death gigs seems like a lifetime ago, but in the immortal words of both John Tardy and James Hetfield (of Metallica), “the memory remains”.

On reflection, I think that is life is like a car ride, get in, learn how to drive, start slow, speed up, go fast, slow down, reach your destination and eventually stop. Looking back at my life to date, I’ve certainly done that, and even though I’m starting the slow down phase which will inevitably lead to the stop phase, I’m still far away from my final destination and I’m enjoying the ride…

Allotment: Meant a lot…

The age-old adage of it’s not what you know it’s who you know never rang so true this week.

As I’m rotating around different circles of friends these days, opportunity seems to knock more frequently now. I had put myself on the local authority register for allotments to grow my own produce a few months back, but the waiting lists post-COVID are now ridiculously long, with the average wait a staggering ten years, now that a great many people are now wanting to do the same.

One of my new eco-retreat comrades alerted me to an opening in his new venture, which is a strip of land behind one of the market gardens close by to where we live, thus expediting my off-grid journey towards the Good Life by a mere decade.

Much to do…

Excited to see the land, it took a quick “recky” to assess the current status and envisioned future state at the weekend, meeting some of my would-be farmers friends at the same time. The land is approximately eight metres by eighty metres and is totally barren.

Some work has already been done, the visqueen weed-blocking layer has been stripped from the land and the goodly folks of the cooperative (nine others in total) have just completed the laying of flattened cardboard boxes, making it look like an alien landing strip from above, welcomed too by a fire pit already installed at the foot of the land, to warm their cockles after their sub-zero temperature interstellar space travel (should they have cockles to warm of course).

The Landing Strip…

The plan for the site will be to follow the no-dig methods of Charles Dowding, laying down strips of cardboard to block out the weeds, on top of which sits several tonnes of compost, creating narrow lanes of cultivatable land with minimal back-breaking work. The plans are to grow pretty much everything one can grow, with the additions of a poly tunnel and green house making this all possible.

The Communal Shack…

The inclusion of a communal shack will be a place of solace in the summer once built, allowing us all to click back and whittle some, after a hard days graft,

Needless to say, me and the extended family (sister) are super excited to get started, and the to-be seedlings will be seated in their respective pots and growing cells over the coming days, prior to the virgin planting once the compost has been successfully splayed across the allotment.

I’ll also experiment with my smart garden to cultivate the seedlings, nine at any one time all year round, a constant conveyor belt of cultivation…

Off-Grid On-Grid…

As Rabbie Burns famously once penned, “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, For promis’d joy!”

It’s fair to say that as the dawn rose this morning, another day of being both completely healthy and totally locked in left me with feelings of melancholy.

In need of cheering up, I took it upon myself to make my wife a Valentine’s Day breakfast, her favourite of poached eggs on toast with sea salt and cracked pepper. With two small gifts and a hug or two exchanged, my mind quickly returned to the great outdoors. As the snowflakes fell again upon the cold ground, I could not help but feeling that this year was another one that is going to pass most of us by, certainly in the UK.

Mrofa Nefyn, home of Ty Coch, tenth best beach bar in the world…

The extra-currlcular project that I am working to invent and create an eco-retreat in North Wales couldn’t seem further away than it actually is geographically (i.e. anything beyond the Boris Johnson invisible line of seven miles is out of bounds according to the latest “guidelines”). Here we will have something that when deployed, will bring so much personal achievement for me and my comrades, as well an avenue for many others to enjoy nature, commune with others and return to an acceptable level of mind-body-spiritual balance, all of which are out of kilter for the vast majority of the populace.

I am resigned to the fact that it’s not going to happen this year. With so much uncertainty and blockers, my proposed project plan is already slipping to the right with no actions yet completed.

Someone said to me recently to only concern oneself with the things one can control and let go of the things one cannot. Wise words.

With those sage words of advice keeping my tinnitus company this morning, I took to YouTube for inspiration, and man was I inspired!

Dave and Brooke, inspiring couple

After several attempts to find the right viewings on creating ecolodges, I came across two wonderful individuals, known in cyberspace as Bushradical and the Girl in the Woods (move over Sarah Beeny and George Clarke).

Very recently, they have created what I had been dreaming of for the eco-retreat, an off-grid cabin/lodge erected simply and quickly from standard materials one can find at the reclamation/builders yards and hardware supply stores.

So impressed am I with the simplicity, speed and quality of the build, I simply have to share the videos below, in a hope to inspire myself to build a copy of their creation as a prototype in my own compact and bijou back yard, and if successful use the same design and materials as a template for our retreat.

Bushradical

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Girl In The Woods

Part 1
Part 2

After being totally consumed by these videos today, I started to put pen to paper to see how I can use Dave and Brooke’s template to create my “Cabin in the Yard”.

With the temperatures at zero outside, there is plenty of time now to draw up my plans on what the dimensions of the cabin will look like, and what materials I need to procure over the coming weeks. The planned build is to commence on the Spring Equinox (21st March).

Cabin in the Yard, initial plan on a page

Hope springs eternal, the eternal springs hope…

Mushroom boleh!

Today marks the official harvesting day from my first crop of white button mushrooms.

Whilst the yield is less than expected, small is beautiful, the most perfect little mushrooms have appeared.

First crop…
Raise the roof…
The mushroom is more beautiful than the rose…
Fungi family, just add love…

Looking forward to my first homegrown mushroom omelette (locally sourced eggs and smart garden sweet chilli).

Micro-self-sufficiency at its finest…

Days of Futures Past…

Communing with nature. Living off the land. Mind, body and soul cleansing. Community spirit and oneness. Consciousness expansion. Peace and love.

Deep down many of us want the ideals above but are either unable, unwilling or lack the courage to do those things that we know will be better for us and better for the planet.

This week saw my eagerly awaited trip to Lammas Eco-Village in South Wales, an expedition into the uncharted territory of off-grid living., a fact finding mission for our band of neophyte hippies to sequester information from the founders, Mr and Mrs Wimbush, in order for us to gain insights into their ten year journey from a barren greenfield plot of land, to a fully functional and self-sufficient settlement.

As a guy who has worked in and around IT projects for most of his life, I bring to the table my decades of structure, organisation and planning, so I took the responsibility to plan out our trip in advance, including timelines, itineraries and a large set of questions, the output of which would give us enough answers and direction to kick-start the build of our eco-retreat project in North Wales.

This is a work project not one of pleasure (although no doubt the journey and end result will no doubt be a joyous thing), and as such the trip was “allowed” under the strict “essential travel only” guidelines. Even still, I had a bad feeling before setting off that at some point over the four hour journey south, our collars would be felt at least once by the boys in blue, and in preparation for that eventuality I printed off all materials (Covid travel guidelines, agenda, emails etc) as a form of proof to plod that our trip was legitimate. As it turned out, the trip was “copper-free” and we arrived safely at Lammas, collars unfelt.

As we drove into the village, the first thing that struck us was the size. Each of the plots sized between six and seven acres and there were plenty of them (totalling seventy seven acres in all).

Our destination for the day however was Maes Melangell, the home of both the Wimbush family (pioneers of Lammas) and a newly-constructed and yet-to-be completed Lammas Earth Centre.

I had done some research on Lammas over the previous nights (reading the One Planet Life book as well as watching several YouTube videos) to provide at least some background knowledge on what the set up was like and what their journey had been like thus far.

But like a great many things in life, reading about something is one thing, experiencing it is markedly different, the whole day was testament to that.

We were greeted (after a few wrong turns) on the tracks by Hoppi (aka Mrs Wimbush), who welcomed the group warmly and invited us in to the main house for a socially distanced and hand-sanitised chat, so that we could get to know each other a little and our posse could set out its expectations for the day.

One thing that did strike me on the way in was how impressive their homestead looked, it was clear that the well-built dwelling house, the super-impressive Lammas Earth Centre, the animal barn and all of the cultivation areas had taken years to achieve and a ridiculous amount of dedication and hard graft (both physically and meta-physically).

With a hot cup of Bengal Spice Tea in hand, Hoppi walked us through their ambitious journey so far, all of us playing silent witness and in awe in what they had achieved to date and how they had done it. Their home was warm not only in temperature (from the amazing wood-burner and impressively insulated walls), but in feeling too, clearly the house was also wrapped in the warmth of love, of oneness with each other, with nature and the universe at large.

It became apparent early on that what we saw before us had taken an Herculean effort, not only in planning, designing, developing and constructing, but in terms of pressure and stress too. Here we had a small family (children were six and nine at the time) living in a small touring caravan on an empty landscape, with huge plans for off-grid living in their heads and one hell of a journey in front of them.

We shared our own plans for the eco-treat which were met warmly too, but it was becoming apparent (to me at least) that our embryonic project was very different than what was in front of us in terms of components, requirements and end-state.

The five of us involved thus far all have day commitments that we don’t foresee giving up any time soon, and at this point we don’t envision any of us living at the eco-retreat permanently. So it dawned on us that going down the One Planet Development route for our project was likely to be a dead end and overcomplicated from a planning and local authority permission perspective. Ours would be a different path than the one Lammas has taken, but it would have the same ethos are drive for sustainability.

After a warm exchange, Hoppi then took us on a tour of the site, explaining the exact functions of each building and zone, safe to say that we were all in total awe of what we were viewing.

Many hands make light work…

Their plans were not only realised by their own hands, but by those of volunteers too. Through the use of an entire tribe of volunteers (over seventy in total) they were able to morph their barren landscape into something truly remarkable.

And it’s is the essence of that very approach which has left a spiritual and collective resonance around the place, almost like a mycelium layer of positivity and love, woven into the very fabric of every component on site, borne from the many hands of like-minded individuals.

The beating heart of Maes Melangell…
The Owl Sanctuary…
The composting toilets…
The Solar Kiln…
The Eco-Retreat…
The Eco-Shower…
The Innovative Waterproofing…
The Renewable Energy Supply…
The Earth Centre…
The Interstellar Roof…
The Barn…
The Kids…

After the staggeringly impressive show and tell, we had the opportunity to wander the site on our own, I took the time to fly my drone over the site to get a birds eye view whilst my comrades meandered through various muddy pathways on foot, the site as impressive from the air as on the ground.

Bird’s Eye view of Maes Melangell (Lammas Eco-Village)

We finished our trek as the door to the main house opened and for the first time we met Tao (Mr Wimbush) for the first time. Set and setting are always important and the lunch of Pumpkin and Parsnip Soup with home made bread and goats butter transformed a basic meal to the best lunch of all time, ever.

It came across well on the videos I had seen, but in person, Tao’s calming nature juxtaposed against Hoppi’s effervescence made it a perfect partnership, and I saw the deep, loving and spiritual connection they both had for each other on a couple of occasions. Beautiful.

We shared our vision and hope for the eco-retreat with Tao and based on the components we wanted to develop (very different to Lammas), Tao advised that the One Planet Development wasn’t the best way to go for our venture and he suggested an alternative approach to achieve the desired outcome, to which we all agreed.

I was truly blown away by Tao, to be surrounded by such an amazing feat of construction and sustainable cleverness was one thing, but his calming, warming, nurturing, inspiring and guiding words (and well as long hair and beard), felt to me like I was in the presence of a modern day Jesus (affirmed by “L” on the way back home who thought the same).

As the darkness drew in and thoughts turned to the arduous long journey home in poor driving conditions, with a genuine sadness and gratitude, we bade farewell to our hosts for the day and headed back north to on-grid living, resigned and melancholic in the knowledge that workers boots and corporate laptops would called upon within just a few hours of returning.

Like my Robin Williams blog from a few years ago stated (Life Is Experience Not Knowledge – https://infinitybeckons.wordpress.com/2016/10/18/life-is-experience-not-knowledge) there is nothing quite like experiencing things first hand as opposed to reading them in a book.

We had so many take-aways from our trip to Lammas, hints, tips and nudges in the right direction we simply would not have hot had we not visited. We agreed that when we returned home we would double-down on our efforts to get things moving, albeit in a slightly different direction to our initial plans.

After visiting Lammas, Hoppi and Tao, it’s now very clear to me that one can live in the fruitfully in the future like we lived in the past, it just takes courage to detach oneself from what is, quite frankly, a broken and totally meaningless capitalist society.

That courage is within us all, we just need to do, there is no try…

The Infinity Garden…

Living even more sustainably in Twenty-Twenty-One is one of my primary goals (beyond surviving the impact of Covid-19 of course).

I made significant in-roads into reducing my own, my families and my colleagues carbon footprint (via a Sustainability Cook Book I released to the masses in late December). Some of it by my own volition and some of it as a consequence of this year’s limitations on travel and consumerism.

In the book “How Bad Are Bananas” by Mike Berners-Lee, it proposes that we should all try to live a 5 tonnes lifestyle (less where possible), and after doing the official UN carbon footprint calculation, my families overall tonnage was twenty-four tonnes, 6 tonnes per head, not bad when you look at the average in say Australia is twenty tonnes per head.

So a few further tweaks to the family processes next year (switching to hybrid car, off-boarding one of the children to his own house and eating a plant/fish-based diet with minimal red meat) will help reduce it to four tonnes per head. Phase One complete, Phase Two being the long term plan of setting up an off-grid small holding.

My foray into techno-agriculture (Blade Runner 2049 larva farm on standby) was met with some success. Growing my own produce (albeit in micro-quantities) gave me some insights to cultivating edibles and The Infinity Garden is currently performing admirably…

The Infinity Garden v1.0
“We sow the seed, nature grows the seed, and we eat the seed” – Neil The Hippy

I have been impressed with the quality of the growth, I had heard mixed reviews on the outputs, but I must say everything that has churned out thus far has been very “Cuprinol”.

Basil…
Chilli Peppers…
Coriander…
Lavender…
Mini Tomatoes…
Sweet Peppers…

With an addition of not one, but two grow-your-own mushroom kits and a book of the greatest and best Indian Street Food recipes from one of the best (if not the best), restaurants in Liverpool (Mowgli), I feel more armed with organic opportunities already for the coming year.

A friend of mine “I”, who is also part of the eco-retreat build starting soon, has also just acquired nine allotment plots and is keeping an eye out for me so that I can join the collective, putting to bed my vision for a vertical garden in the confined space behind my house.

I would not have thought twelve months ago that I would be that much more in-tune with nature and the universe in general, but it just goes to show that even in chaos, opportunities for positive change are there, one just needs to take a breath, focus and do…

Carpe Diem…

The universe of late, it seems, has been listening to my silent screams of frustration, a frustration that most citizens of these lands are also going through true, but my inner torment may have called out louder than any voice.

Two weeks ago, I was knee-deep in my drive towards activism, consuming hitherto hidden truths relating to the pandemic, circumventing that bipartisan and collective narrative spun by ministers and selected scientists across all constituencies and component parts of the “united” kingdom, in search for answers.

Truth seekers, also known as conspiracy theorists to anyone not following the BBC and Sky News, sniff out alternative narratives, forcing like-minded individuals to go to ground, gathering in clandestine fora, coming together to gain both numbers and momentum.

It is a very difficult process, as not only are the authorities against them, but so is more than fifty percent of the population, and as such, fatigue can set in with the spectre of negativity and despair shrouding their every move.

Two weeks ago I felt tired, beleaguered from the fight, longing to get away from it all, longing to fast-forward six years to the time that I clock-off for the last time and head for the hills, literally, setting up a retreat in the rurals to live out my days off the land, self-sufficient and abdicating from the urban nation.

In a strange and timely twist of fate, I got a phone call the next day from my yoga instructor, asking me to design, develop and project manage the building of an “eco-retreat” in North Wales on a piece of land her family had inherited a couple of years back.

I had mentioned my retirement intentions to her just briefly in a passing conversation a few months earlier, not going into any detail at all, yet here we were, discussing the intent for her commune as if I’d written a best selling book on the subject and had implemented installs several times over.

Needless to say the three hour conversation we had flew by and by the end of it, my head still spinning, I agreed to start work on it the very next day.

The very next day was a work day, and with it yet another dollop of kismet came my way. I was given an action in work to develop a “sustainability cook-book” which looked to call out all of the things we buy, do and consume and what the impact of each has on the environment, in an effort to drive down the carbon footprint of the organisations 140,000 staff.

Clearly the oil and gas industry has a lot to do to convince folks in the outside world that it cares. They of course acknowledge that it has been part of the problem (for a long time) but that it is also primed to be part of the solution; that is to produce sustainable and clean energy for the planets inhabitants and ongoing industrial processes.

That starts with the staff. We can all choose to sign up to individual plans to reduce our own carbon footprints, we can choose to develop sustainable and clean solutions by considering the environmental impacts before any functional or non-functional requirement. We can all help to drive the shift away from fossil fuels to renewables and sustainable fuels, leaving the nasty stuff in the ground.

Clearly some individuals who work in the industry want to play their part in putting a stop to the managed decline of the planet, but only time will tell whether the bottom line of profit outweighs the need to be eco-friendly, but do something we must and if I can influence that and change the mindset of my colleagues, then that is what I intend to do on my last rotation before I leave the company.

We must not pay lip service to climate change. We have been accused recently of green-washing by Greta Thunberg and many others which may well be true to a certain extent, so we need to partner with such individuals and groups to deliver real change and sustainable energy for many generations to come.

So within forty eight hours, I had put together the basic plans to build an eco-retreat and a how-to guide to change the hearts and minds of a massive workforce.

Seize the day, carpe diem…