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Orchard Crop Field Mongolian Yurt Spring Deck and Pond Caravan Wild Flower Meadow New Coppice Pig Wood Sweet Chestnut Coppice Cabana Big Field Chicken Run Kitchen Garden Straw Bale HQ Toilet and Shower


Orchard

We planted the first trees in 2012, apples, pears and plums. Against the advice of the local nursery staff (who just happened to know our piece of land), we tried peach but even our light morning frosts were too much for them.

We're learning fast that the Asturians are very traditional with generations of local knowledge stored up, and though it's our nature to experiment, we happily acknowledge that in many areas they really do know best.



Crop Field

The Crop Field is a half acre field gently sloping to the south, here we grow sweetcorn, potatoes, onions, garlic, leeks and a mix of perennial veg.

We're also experimenting with the 'pig tractor' and have sectioned off a part to provide a summer residence for a couple of youngsters before they move to Pig Wood for an autumn of fattening up on nuts. So far, we've learnt that they don't do much tractoring until they're at least 4 months and even then they don't do much if they're very well fed.



Mongolian Yurt

This yurt's got history! In the wake of an Eastern adventure, a friend of ours shipped it over from Mongolia a few years ago and weathered a couple of Asturian winters in it with his wife and 4 kids. Now it's been retired to El Toral, where it provides a beautiful shelter for those who want to get away from the pressures of modern life i.e. the yurt has no electricity and is lit by candles and lanterns. Nestled in the hillside next to the spring deck and field kitchen, the yurt is camping at its most glamorous (probably).

If you want an off-grid holiday in our Mongolian Yurt, check out our booking & prices and other info on the Sleep page.



Wild Flower Meadow

Perhaps not a wild flower meadow yet but we are managing it in that direction.

It gets hand scythed once a year at present, this may be upped to twice a year every other year. After scything we allow a short period of grazing. It appears the management of wild flower meadows depends on various factors : aspect, shading, soil types, drainage, cutting method...we are still learning, however, the increase in species is noticeable even after a couple of years.

Scything ooohaarh......
It's a great way to lose a pot belly gained from too many sedentary years in the office. One of the joys of Asturias (for us, anyway) is that lots of people are still using scythes and other traditional hand tools like billhooks and mattocks to manage fields, woods and hedgerows.



Spring Deck & Pond

Here lies a great deal of work. Using basic knowledge of geography and ecology we worked out where there might be an underground spring. We dug and got a gusher! - it felt a bit like discovering oil in the movies. With the help of volunteers we built a 1500 litre concrete spring box over the top of the spring. This has been cleverly disguised with a deck and pergola over the top. A battery, charge controller, timer and pump are housed in a box seat. The pump is powered by a solar panel on the pergola. From the springbox, water is pumped up to another 3000l chamber where it is cleaned and purified by passing through a sand filter with shmutzdeck (a layer of scum full of microbes that eat pathogens!). As the spring water comes up vertically from the ground rock, rather than emerging from through-flow closer to the surface, it is already very clean (the locals drink it direct from springs in most of the villages around us). From from the sand filter the water flows down the other side of the hill to our house.

The whole water, collection storage, cleaning and delivery system was designed and built using guidance from The Centre for Alternative Technology's "Water" book. Whilst the spring is little more than a trickle, even during a dry summer it produces 1000 litre a day, far more than our needs, so the overflow from the spring box flows into our new pond. The pond was dug in 2012 and provides a mini widlife haven - the dragonflies are amazing. We also jump in on a hot day and the odd bit of mud wrestling has been known. At some point we'd like to rear carp for eating and possibly develop a mud spa!



Rainbow Caravan

Towed through wind and snow from England, winter 2012, this caravan has been refurbished, glammed up a bit and given a solar panel to charge the battery, which powers the low wattage lighting.

It's got it's own deck on the south side overlooking the wild woodland and hills and Grace has painted a rainbow on the side for good measure. If you fancy a low-impact stay in the little blue custom caravan with a big green view check out prices and other info on the Sleep page.



Composting Toilet and Solar Shower



A composting toilet is the most sutainable and ecolocal sewage solution there is. Ours is a twin vault design with a urine separator. It takes a year or two to fill one vault after which the seat is repositioned over the second vault. As the second vault fills, the first load composts and, by the time the second vault is full, the first load has broken down to fine dry compost that is perfect for putting around the fruit trees. The key to good composting and a smell free loo is keeping the compost dry. Each time the toilet is used a scoop of sawdust is sprinkled on top, this helps absorb moisture and reduces smells and the urine separator is vital in keeping the composting material dry and the smells at bay.

There is a cultural problem with composting toilets in the west, we seem to think that you must have water involved, anything else in somehow inferior. Ecologically though you cannot beat a composter. Essentially we are taking responsibility for our own pooh and using a fraction of the resources/energy used in the processing of sewage and the cleaning of water that is used in conventional toilets. We love ours, it is clean with no nasty niffs and it does have a splendid view.

The Solar Shower is fed with spring water pumped up to a 1000L tank from where it flows down through a coil of black pipesl sitting on the south facing roof of the toilet, then down to the shower. Obviously if the sun doesn't shine the water is not going to be hot, so we've incorporated a back-up gas boiler for those cloudy days and early mornings.



New Coppice

We planted some sweetchestnut in autumn 2013 and will continue to plant more,together with ash, hazel and in the wetter valley bottom, poplar and willow.

In the longer term we would like to be self sufficient in wood for fuel. It'll take a good few years but we'll get there.

We have a stock of young trees and all visitors are welcome to plant a tree in the new coppice. It helps to offset their carbon footprint, gives them a workout and increases our future wood supply.



Pig Wood

Half an acre of mature woods, mainly oak and sweetchestnut but also hazel, holly, ash, silver birch, alder and quite possibly the tallest wild cherry in western europe! There's a little stream at the bottom of the wood too. What better surroundings for a pig to live in - nut heaven.

We aim to fatten our pigs up over the nutting season and kill them at the end of winter whilst it's still cold. Killing any animal is a serious business and this is really brought home to us as we do it on site with the help of the local matarife, our neighbour Senen. Half of the meat we process into chorizo the rest goes in the freezer.



Sweet Chestnut Coppice

Every farm should have one! Ours provides all our fence posts, the main structural posts and beams for all our buildings, including 6 metre roof beams for the cabana and new barn.

Of course we also get a pile of sweet chestnuts every November - the pigs get most of them.

In order to get the most out of our coppice, we made a burner out of an old oil drum so we could process our off-cuts into fantastic hardwood charcoal which we sell and use ourselves for BBQ.



Chicken Run

If we had known just how easy it is to keep chickens we'd have had them in the back garden years ago. They are cheap to feed, half their food they get from scratching around and their droppings make a great addition to the compost heap. In 2013 we had our first ever home hatched chicks: one of the mums disappeared for a couple of weeks (we assumed she'd been eaten by foxes), then one day we spotted her in a hedge about 2 metres from our house!! She'd been been there the whole time patiently incubating 9 eggs, which all hatched successfully. Maybe in a few years this will be run of the mill stuff but we were enchanted, excited and all very proud of our super mum.



Big Field

Currently we rent out half of this to a neighbour who raises beef cattle. When we are ready we intend to use this 4 acres of grassland for a small number of sheep and a milking cow, probably an Asturiana Montana which is similar to a jersey cow.



Cabana

Cabana's are found all over rural Spain, essentially you'd have the livetock below and the shepherd would live above. Ours was a leaking wreck when we arrived. With the help of friends and volunteers we've gradually renovated the place into something a bit special. We've tried to keep to traditional and sustainable building techniques using, lime based mortar, local stone, our own coppiced Sweet Chestnut timbers and reclaimed clay tiles. The windows, doors, staircase and bannisters have been hand crafted on site, using locally sourced Sweet Chestnut, Oak, Hazel and Alder.

Our Cabana is off grid, like all the facilities on site, the water is supplied from our private spring and all electricity is from solar panels. This means there is a considerably lower peak power surge capacity and lower continuous supply than you would normally find in a typical dwelling: our total site consumes less than 10% of the power used in an average UK household. The Cabana's electric system runs at 240v ac supply and will happily run all the LED lighting, charge phones, laptops, tablets, music players etc. However, it is not designed to run domestic appliances with heating elements such as a kettle, toaster, hair dyer, hair straighteners etc.

There are basic self catering facilities in the kitchenette, though of course, if you tell us in advance, you can enjoy breakfast and dinner over at strawbale HQ when you fancy. So, if you want an off-grid holiday check out our prices.



Kitchen Garden

After buying the land the first thing we did was start digging and hauling stones to create our terraced kitchen garden. The soil was pretty poor but we had to have a veg plot close to the kitchen. After countless of sacks of manure from our neighbour's cattle farm, a couple of years worth of compost and a load of leaf mulch, the soil is improving and the veg is getting better too.

Just above the terrace we inherited a massive pile of rubble created by the excavation for a future extension to the cabaƱa. We weren't sure what to do with it but over the last couple of years it has evolved into a pretty productive herb garden and strawberry patch. Amazingly the strawberries keep coming from May until October. In Feb 2012 we added a 4m by 8 m greenhouse, mainly for chillies and tomatoes but also to extend the growing season and give our seedligs a head start. We also grow mixed winter salads which are fan.

On the whole we get pretty good veg from the kitchen garden year round. However, we do have a problem with brassicas through the summer, which, no matter what we do, suffer from flea beetle (any suggestions welcome!).

To our surprise we discovered that kiwi fruit are one of Asturias' biggest exports, so of course we had to give them a go. We should get fruit from 2014 onwards with a bit of luck. It turns out that the Asturian climate is similar to that of New Zealand (same latitude as well).



Straw Bale HQ

In the very early days we imagined that we would stay in the caravan for just as long as it took to renovate the cabana. We knew this would take a while so we decided to construct a small, temporary porch to extend the living space of the caravan. It was September, our first winter was approaching. We had to be in, with heating, by November, so it had to be quick.

Our ever dwindling pot of cash was intended for the cabana renovation, so it had to be cheap.

During this process we learned that we couldn't progress with our planning application to extend and renovate the cabana (it's a long story but boils down to our ignorance + poor communication + unsympathetic planning regs). Suddenly, the caravan and shelter had to be suitable for a famiily of 3 to live in for the foreseable future.

We decided to go big. Not surprisingly a frame constructed of sweetchestnut poles supporting an industrial roof (10cm of insulation sandwiched between coated steel profile sheeting) that, is our single major compromise regarding sustainable building materials but it's a great roof, lightweight, watertight, no condensation, it's re-usable and it only took an afternoon to fit! Straw bale infill pinned together by 200 hand whittled hazel rods. All the windows came out of a skip! bar the roof and glazing, the rest of the building would rot into the ground leaving no trace if left for long enough, that is low impact building.

The heating was fired up in early November courtesy of our all singing and dancing log burning stove which is the heart of the house, providing heat, an oven , a massive hob and all our hot water - it would run 6 radiators as well but there just isn't the need for them. The bath was plumbed into the deck outside on Christmas Eve. It's a little on the wild side but two years on and we are stilled thrilled to slide into it whatever the weather, night or day.

On the power front, we have a small array of solar panels providing 0.5kW peak, these charge a couple of large 266ah deep cycle bateries via a MPPT charge controller. The lighting is all LED 12v. We have a 1000w pure sine wave inverter to power everything else at 240v a/c. Our total power consumption is about 1/10 of a typical UK household, Ok we don't have a dishwasher, kettle, toaster, hair drier etc but we manage somehow, if you choose to live off grid with a low environmental impact you just can't have it all.


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El Toral,
Pandenes,
Asturias,
33529
Spain

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