Sunday, 26 May 2019

Composting toilet build

It's been a while since I last found time to update this blog, as there's been a lot on, including building our composting toilet - more below on that. The sad bit is that one of our cockatiels, Tom, passed away - there's a memorial video of him here. We've also been involved in the Extinction Rebellion action on the climate emergency - I've livestreamed from some of the actions here. The coppicing was completed in early February - here's a video walk-through of the area:


Winter seemed to come and go, with things warming up enough for sap to flow from the stumps of coppiced Birch trees, and then cooling enough for that sap to freeze:
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I spotted the first Bluebell open on 29 March:
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About the same time as the Wood Anemones were in full bloom:
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A month later, Bluebells had entirely replaced the Wood Anemones in that spot, which was where we'd coppiced just over a year ago:
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Elsewhere in the woods the wild boar had been busy digging up grass to look for food:
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and I tried taking some arty photos of woodland scenes:
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The building of our composting toilet in the woods has also been keeping Tracy and I busy. It's not done yet, but here's the story so far... This is the space we picked for it, away from the 'camp' but not too far, and no significant trees to fell to clear a space for it:
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The first job was to put in the main structural posts. We used a post-hole digger to create holes a couple of feet deep for these, the posts are peeled sweet chestnut (thanks to Tracy for doing lots of peeling, plus help from some visitors too!):
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Then we had to come up with a way of holding a horizontal pole against the posts so I could use a transfer scribe to mark them out for making a joint:
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It would have been easier to do this with them lying on the ground and then stand the frame upright, but it would have been rather heavy... Then some careful chainsawing was needed to shape the pieces of wood to fit together - once again, the precise speed control and lower weight of the battery chainsaw (a Husqvarna 536LiXP) came in useful:
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Here's the end result, including a little step at the bottom and a matching notch in horizontal pole, to take some of the weight:
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This was repeated for the next row of posts, and then the poles fixed into place using stainless steel bolts and large square washers:
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More similar work put the next layer of poles in place, which extend forward to join some more posts, which will form a handrail around a platform in front of the toilet cubicles:
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Then it was on to the roof - we bought some timber for this bit, as we didn't have long enough straight pieces of our own to use. It involved quite a bit of clambering around to get it done:
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The roof was completed with some corrugated panels, coloured green so as not to stand out too much visually:
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That's as far as we've got for now - we want to use our own sweet chestnut to make the floor and walls, so we're waiting to get some time on a friend's sawmill. More to come on this later in the summer!

Mike

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Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Wild boar, rain and coppicing

Let's start with the fun bit - a compilation of video clips of wild boar recorded on our Bushnell trail camera. Most animals ignore the camera, but one boar actually saw it, and rapidly changed direction!


Coppicing got off to a slow start this winter for various reasons, but we got a lot done over the past few weeks. Fortunately the rain we've had has been mostly overnight, though that did mean I had to unblock the culvert on arrival one day. Always satisfying to get that water moving again though!


Here's the area we've been coppicing before we started:

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We've done 99% of the cutting using our new battery electric chainsaw, a Husqvarna 536LiXP. While slower than the petrol one, it doesn't produce toxic exhaust fumes right in front of your face, it's quieter, there's no starter cord to pull and it doesn't burn fossil fuels. It can cope with trees up to about 12", which covers a lot of what we're coppicing:

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We've made reasonable progress now, the large stool in one of the photos above is down, and yielded some useful pieces of wood as well as firewood:

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We've also got several stacks of wood ready to start seasoning now as well:

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Meanwhile, in the wayleave over the hill from us, National Grid's contractor has come in with a large machine that's eaten everything:

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Although this looks dramatic, it actually results in a really good habitat a few years later. They don't do it to the whole area in one year, so wildlife has some chance to get out of the way.

I'll leave you with a scenic woodland photo, hope you have a great 2019!

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Mike

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Sunday, 7 October 2018

Autumn arriving in the woods

Well, it's been a busy summer, and autumn has caught up with us all of a sudden, making me realise I haven't posted here for a while! So let's start with the kind of views that only come with that early-morning autumn mist:

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The leaves are beginning to turn on the trees now, and I took this photo about a week ago, so things have moved on since then:

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Fungi have been sprouting up everywhere, such as these Fly Agaric (Amanita Muscaria):

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But let's rewind a couple of months. The electric chainsaw (a Husqvarna 536Li XP)  has been doing a great job over the summer, almost entirely charged from our solar panels at home:

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At one of the shows I was running a Truncator stall at, I cut up all these on just three battery charges:

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So, the firewood store at home is now full, ready for winter - which *may* be a bit colder than average due to the 11-year solar cycle heading into a minimum and a possible El Nino.

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Summer has also been a time for extracting wood that was cut in winter 2016/17, getting it out before the undergrowth gets too thick. The Stein Arbor Trolley does a great job here, enabling us to move logs out from places where we couldn't get the car and trailer in to - one of the best bits of kit we've bought for the woods!

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From the trolley the logs end up on the trailer:

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And then eventually to a stack where they'll be accessible over the winter, no matter what the weather. It does mean double-handling the wood, and we try to minimise this by going straight from the arbor trolley into the Truncator and then home when possible, but experience has shown that if we don't get the left-over wood out into an accessible place while the weather is good, we regret it later...

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We've also been collecting up some larger pieces of chestnut from the past couple of years' felling:

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This is all being stacked near our camp area, and the plan is to use some of it to build a composting toilet in the near future:

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Speaking of which, I've bought a fancy Veritas transfer scribe to help in building the toilet, it's used for marking up logs to make round wood joints. I need a bit of practice with it first though!

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Also over the summer, a friend asked for a variety of sizes of 'mushroom stools', as a variation on the four-legged stools that I normally make. These are now sitting in the 'forest school' area of a nursery.

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I also felt it was time to make an improved table/workbench in our camp area, so put this together from an old split piece of chestnut. It's higher and a lot bigger than the older table (which you can see to the left), and I drilled holes for the legs this time, rather than using the chainsaw to bore them.

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You get a decent width from a single log by using the two halves side-by-side:

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The halves are held together by two dovetail joints underneath, made using the electric chainsaw:

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Over in Sweep Wood, where we cut some coppice last winter, the Alder has regrown at a phenomenal rate:

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Alder seedlings are also springing up wherever there are gaps:

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The Hazel, on the other hand, has been chewed by rabbits and is struggling... I think this is a good reason for me to have a hawk to eat the rabbits, but Tracy's not convinced yet...

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First-year Foxgloves are also in evidence here, which bodes well for a nice display when they reach their second year and flower:

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This whole area is usually wet, and the region leading into the culvert clearly retained enough moisture even over the dry summer we've had, as it's got a profusion of plants:

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Finally, I wanted to come back to Autumn, with the Ivy coming into flower. While people sometimes don't like it growing on trees, it is actually very important for providing late flowers for insects, so it's good to leave it be if it's not causing an immediate hazard.

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We're now getting into coppicing again, so my next update will show how the electric chainsaw is getting on for actual tree felling...

Mike


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