Tag Archives: eco-community

Is winter over, over here?

2 Mar

It’s not been that cold in the south west of France this winter. So far, we’ve had two separate snowfalls, each lasting just two days. So, merely a dusting in comparison with what the UK has been receiving this week. And we’ve only had two nights since the beginning of the year where the temperatures dropped below freezing.

I took Nettles for a walk this morning and shot these views of our village from down below where the residential home is.

In the top photograph you can see our church, which is an ancient monument, built between the 13th and 15th centuries.

But it is not all good news – for the last two months we’ve had exceptional rainfall. In one weekend in January it rained the equivalent of one month’s precipitation. The river which passes by our garden is running in full spate (and is very noisy at night).

Anyway, now that spring has arrived, the gardeners are active again. Soil has been carefully prepared and marked out. A garden plan has been drawn up by Trish. And she and several volunteers have already dug-in the compost, ready for the seeds be planted. In fact, Trish has already planted broad beans and peas. There are also seedlings growing in the greenhouse.

Later, we drove into Carcassonne and visited a place where they sell everything that is required for watering a garden automatically. As we jokingly explained to the man behind the counter, coming from England meant that we had little or no experience of automatic watering systems, since it usually rained a lot where we lived in Kent. He understood completely what we were saying! The next step is to go back to see him and show him the plan of the garden and then he’ll be able to calculate precisely the components that we need.

Below is a shot of la Montagne Noire that I took on our return to Montolieu whilst Nettles playing in the field nearby.

Keep warm out there!

It’s finally finished!

5 Sep

We don’t really believe it but the reed bed sewage system is finally finished. At the end of July we had a visit from the company who’d designed the system. They requested that we make a few changes to the layout of the vertical bed. This entailed moving the dispersers, raising the separator and reinforcing and raising the grill that stops people and animals from coming into contact with the effluent.

Trish, I and Dylan, a volunteer from Missoula, Montana, USA, worked during August to carry out the work. We also tried out two ways to cap the edge of the bed – roof tiles and stones. It was decided that the tiles looked nicer. We had a stock of old roof tiles in the old factory. The only problem was that to get to them we had to go under a huge beam supporting the floor above and this beam had broken in two!

So we then remembered seeing four new metal props which had been stored under the terrace of the Old House. Provenance unknown but they did the job. The beam can’t fall any further but will need specialist help to push it back into place and brace it.

Here is Dylan working in the sh*t!

We had to carry out a number of adjustments in order to meet the specifications of the system’s designer. Now these are finished, we are waiting for a visit from the SPANC (Le Service Publique d’Assainissement Non-Collectif). SPANC is the public body in France that controls the design and implementation of sewage treatment systems that are not connected to the public sewer. If they are satisfied then they will issue an approval notice which we can present to the Town Hall.

This has been a major project here. Over the last three years I have gained a lot of knowledge (perhaps too much knowledge!) on how sewage is treated. We looked into pumping stations which could deliver our waste up to the public system, which was 300 metres up our track, and 30 metres higher. This was discarded as too costly even though a sewage pipe had been installed under the track when the renovations were carried out some 15 years ago. We then investigated micro-systems, both above and underground, but the logistics of installing a large plastic structure were interesting and the running costs were also a factor, as the systems need electricity and emptying annually. It was finally decided to install a reed bed system (phytoépuration in French).Here is a shot of the finished system. I promise this is the last you’ll here about this subject for a while!

For us, it’s been a major project. Trish and I organised the work, most of which was carried out by a working party of 26 volunteers over six days at the end of April. They dug out the 25 tonnes of soil to make the lower bed, filled 500 sandbags to create the upper bed, laid the liners in each (three for each bed), installed the drainage pipes and vents, hand shovelled 42 tonnes of stones, gravel and sand into the two beds. This required a lot of coordination and arranging and fetching of supplies – all conducted in French.

Then over the next four months we procured hundreds of plants (some bought, some dug up from waterside locations and some propagated). All were planted by Trish and our volunteer Dylan, who is in his final year studying for a degree in ecology. Another team of volunteers, attending a six day course here on living NVC, demolished the old sewage pipes and installed the new delivery pipes and diverter system. Finally we built a protection grill to keep people and animals away from the effluent, mounted a capping of roof tiles, experimented with covering the sand bags in mud (work in progress here), and tweaked the layout of the delivery pipes and dispersers.

Finally I am pleased to report that the system is working! It coped with over 70 people who attended a 10 day course here in August. The water discharging into the river is clear and we now have an ecological and natural system for treating the sewage here at the Peace Factory.

If you want to know more about the NVC courses go to our website. If you’d like to know about volunteering here, go to our volunteer website.

Thanks for reading.

We have had a lovely summer

4 Sep
The swimming pool at Montolieu

The swimming pool at Montolieu

Well the summers is nearly over but we have had a lovely time over here. The weather was very good this year, although May was a bit rainy. However June and July were splendid – hot, long sunny days with temperatures averaging 30°C. Then it dropped a tad in August, making life that much more bearable. We have been wearing shorts and tee shirts all summer!

The local open-air swimming pool has been much in demand. It’s only open in July and August but when things got too hot, we took to having meetings in the middle of the pool!

The chickens got a new home
The new hen house

The new hen house

Finally we decided that the chicken house built by volunteers two years ago was not fit for purpose. It leaked and was beginning to fall apart, and rats and mice were trying to muscle in as well! So we went on-line and found a French company that supplied wooden, ecological chicken houses that were delivered flat for us to assemble. Here is the result!

They appear to be quite happy with the new arrangement, although for a few days they tried to return to the old one at the end of the day. That stopped when we demolished the old one! It must be working as we started to collect three eggs a day again.

Nettles and yet another bone

Nettles and yet another bone

For Nettles it’s been a lovely time. She has had literally hundreds of people to play with her. She’s been out for long walks and runs. Here she is enjoying a bone.

As we are about to travel back to the UK for a holiday, she has an appointment with the vet who will give her a health check, an injection against worms and he will sign her off as fit to travel. This jas to be done between five days and24 hours before the channel crossing. This year we have decided to go on the overnight ferry from Caen/Ouistreham to Portsmouth thus avoiding any possible delays at Calais due to the refugee crisis unfolding there.

New volunteer website

We have produced a new website for people interested in volunteering here. Please do have a look.

Eco Living

20 Mar

We have now been living at the Peace Factory in Montieu for just over two years where we are helping to set up an eco community. During the last two years we have achieved a lot but have a lot more to do. As well as organising to utilise the village council’s recycling service we have been producing our own compost with a large composter in the veg garden, which was made by two volunteers out of old pallets.

 I also use a Bokashi system in our kitchen which allows us to compost all food waste, including cooked food and bones. (what is Bokashi?) Also in the veg garden we use organic compost produced by the community tip which we buy by the trailer load. It cost just 10 Euros for 1.25 cubic metres. We also get organic manure for the same price from a farmer up the Black mountain who rears cows and sheep organically.  

Then to finish off the soil preparation in the winter we allow the chickens to roam all around the garden where they help to dig up the weeds, spread the compost and add to it with their own poo. 

Using a no-dig technique we are able to prepare the vegtable beds using a layer of cardboard covered by a few inches of manure or compost which is then taken down into the soil by worms and insects which helps to make the ground more usable for vegtables. 

We don’t do anything to the ground between the veg beds leaving it to grass, except cutting it. The ground is very uneven and slopes down from the house towards the other end. So to utilise the water more efficiently I prepare the beds across the garden so that the water flows through each bed instead of through the paths in between them. All the perennial vegetables are planted at the opposite end to the house as they require less attention and tend to grow taller and cause more shade. The veg which is used more frequently is planted nearest the house but not where the chickens can dig them up. We hope to become self-sufficient in veg but we are not there  yet. 

We use branches and sticks as well as bamboo (growing next to the river) for constructing wigwhams for growing peas etc. The chicken house is also positioned closer to the house as it needs to be visited  everyday to collect the eggs. (It is also produced from recycled wood on site and made by volunteers, together with a garden seat made out of pallets and logs.) Then we use a rotation system for the veg beds each year to ensure the correct nurtients are maintained in the soil. Some veg utilise more nitrogen whereas others replenish the nitrogen in the soil. We do not use any sprays or chemicals in the veg garden. Even the chickens are fed on organic food. However we do use wood shavings from the local carpenter for bedding for the chickens and for use in our three composting toilets. We have constructed these toilets to help to reduce water use and produce compost at the same time. 

There is one in the main veg garden, one outside the little house and one inside the ground floor of the factory. When used correctly they do not smell or attract flies. They are clean and will produce usable compost after it is left in a sealed container for six months to a year. I will not use the compost from these on the veg garden but will use it on the flower gardens. The difficulty is getting it from one end of the site to the other. At the moment there is a large container full in the woods behind the little house and I will want to use it one the terraces at the other end of the factory on three different levels. No I cannot use a wheelbarrow even to collect it from the current position! We will find an efficient way of doing this. 

Any other unwanted products like clothes and electrical goods are taken to Emhaus for recycling and all wood is stored for future use, whether for making things or for burning. Leaves will be collected in black sacks, holes put in them and left for six months to be used as leaf moud as a dressing on certain plants which like to grow in an ericaceous compost. We leave a small section of garden each year to nettles (not our dog) so that we can collect the leaves and produce our own fertiliser for growing some veg such as tomotoes. We also like to grow some comfrey for the same purpose or for medicinal use (it is good for sprains). Some of our volunteers have also produced nettle soup (which tastes very nice and is nutritious) but no one has demonstrated nettle tea to me yet. 

For cleaning we try to use eco friendly products like vinegar and bicarb of soda which are sold in many shops near us, as well as eco friendly washing powder and dishwasher powder. We do not use these machines until we have a full load reducing the use of both water and power. We do not have a tumble dryer as this is not eco friendly and during the summer it only takes a couple of hours to dry our washing in the sunshine. 

We are still working on generating our own electricity using the water turbine  but this requires finance which we do not yet have available. 

We are able to get the water from the river to the turbine but we need to purchase and fit an alternator before connecting to the factory. Naturally we turn off the radiators and lights in the rooms we are not using to reduce the amount of energy used. We also need to be able to collect rainwater with guttering and closed water butts for use on the terraces. 

The next stage for the gardens is planting all the veg I have seeded in the greenhouse and sowing some direct in April and clearing some of the terraces for seating areas with flowers and herbs. Volunteers will also be needed to help clear the next floor of the factory in preparation for building a new training room and finishing off the second floor communal areas.