Irene Kightley

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since Apr 13, 2009
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chicken food preservation forest garden fungi hunting solar
South West France
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Recent posts by Irene Kightley

Thanks for all your lovely comments.

Sorry to take so long to come back to this subject but I attended the annual Permaculture encounter in France and the preparation for conferences and visits here afterwards take a whole month or so out of my diary.

Sebastian, I think I've labelled them OK - the text is at the top of each photo. Oh, and we started building the house before Brad Lancaster's book was published - I've never heard of the book and now I want a copy !

Alicia, here are some links to posts in the forum.

Off grid solar and wind

Rainwater harvesting

Permaculture design in the home

I've kept a record of the design considerations and the complete build from the start. In my website (Signature at the bottom of the page), click on "albums" then scroll down to "shelter" and there's a selection of photo albums with comments on our building activities.

Denise, we have a lot of great, free insulation material such as sheep and goat wool, straw and left-over rolls of insulation given to us by friends and neighbours, so we used a lot wherever we could.

In the (As yet unfinished) extension to the house, we used 37cms of straw, 20cms of hollow core brick, then about 25cms of either stone or light clay-straw insulation.
1 week ago
Denise, we're in South West France and several times a year, we're bombasted by extremely large hailstones during storms.

They have smashed the vacuum tubes on our solar water heaters, split polycarbonate sheets, dented our van and ruined tarpaulins covering our hay - but after almost twenty years, our photovoltaic solar panels are still intact.
1 week ago
Hi Nuno,

I've already posted a lot in the forum about the house but for those who don't know me or our place at Sourrou I'll just explain that for the first part of the build, I tried to follow all the classic guidelines for building an effective passive solar house. With a few small changes, it's working really well both summer and winter.

Here are some of the main elements :

The east/west axis of the house means that the sun orientation is used to the fullest for positioning solar water heating panels, photovoltaic panels and for benefiting from winter light and heat in the house.

Stones on some of the interior walls add thermal mass to be sun-warmed or heated by the wood stove. When we were building, it was interesting to see the light effect of the orientation of the house. We marked the walls with a trace at both solstices and the autumn and spring to determine the size of the overhang on the terrace roof which we built later.

Straw bales under the slab with "tiles" made by hand from clay from the pond in front of the house, cement and sand make a good thick heatsink for winter and stay cool in summer.

Spring equinox

Calculating the size of the overhang to maximise solar effectiveness

Big French windows on the south and sw side of the house to allow light to enter and small windows in the north to conserve heat.

Trees and climbing plants on the south facing terrace lose their leaves in winter and let the sun shine all the way into the house.

The small lean-to greenhouse acts as a cushion to the outside and helps heat the house in winter. In summer it's cooled by shady climbing plants and evaporating water.

The walls, floor and roof are super insulated and the outside on the south and west sides are surrounded by terraces and protected from the prevailing winds by several layers of hedges and trees.

The front door on the north wall is surrounded by plants and we leave the door open in the evenings when it's hot to get a nice cool breeze through the house.

When it is blazing hot outside, it's cool inside the house

The sun comes all the way in in the winter, warms the walls, the floor and the wooden furniture and the light is lovely. These photos were taken around the winter solstice.

I've probably missed out a lot of details but if you want to know more, just ask.

1 month ago
So I took a few photos inside and outside of our house to record the changing temperatures, then made the shots into a short video to illustrate one of the cool advantages of having a bioclimatic house which I though might be interesting to share.

No fans, no air conditioning, no energy use - just common sense.

It's 14h and I'm outside, then under a lean-to, I enter the workshop, walk past the cellar (with the door open) then go into the main kitchen then out of the west door to a covered south-facing terrace, then outside under the shade of some trees then point the thermo on the ground in full sun.

1 month ago
Kermit, I'll also mention compromise.

When I designed our kitchen garden on the south facing slope behind our house, the angles were varied between almost flat and very sloped at around 22°. We made the raised beds (About 18 years ago) on contour and initially I wanted to make them all quite narrow so that I'd never have to walk on them but that was totally impractical for the amount of work it was to put in all the retaining poles.

I rethought the shapes and considered the types of plants that would need a much larger space - Jerusalem artichokes, artichokes, shrubs, irises, rhubarb, pumpkin etc. and designed the size of the beds around the big plants that wouldn't need tending to often.

In the end we had hugelkultur beds of different sizes, which were much larger that "recommended" but the shape and layout of the beds has evolved over time and I can garden easily without walking too much on good earth.

I also think it make the garden more interesting if you don't have rows of beds all the same size/shape - but that's just me.
3 months ago
Whenever we move our goats and sheep to a new pasture, we lead the chickens into the old one. Not all of our pastures are suitable for the chickens and we’ve noticed that where the chickens have been, they have done a great job of reducing the number of ticks our animals (and us) pick up.

The Natural Fibre Company, where I send our raw Angora wool to be spun, will not accept fleeces with any traces of pesticides. Obviously we like our animals to be parasite free and comfortable and to begin with, at shearing time, we removed ticks by hand and threw them over the shed wall to the chickens. Gradually, when the chickens heard the shearing machine, a few of the older hens rushed up to the shed for their treats.

Little by little, we encouraged them to come into the shed and peck the ticks off the goats themselves. (They are much better than I am at that job !) Once the ticks are gone, they then begin to peck off lice with as many as five or six chickens working on a goat at any one time.

This part of the process took some time but thankfully, Angora goats are very calm animals and they now stand patiently after they have been sheared to allow a group of chickens to groom them. We keep the goats in for a few days after shearing and each morning the chickens start work on the goats as soon as we open the shed door.
We're handy but also lazy devils, so we let the hens do all the work of incubation, keeping the chicks (hens, ducks, geese) warm and safe and teaching them about life outside the chicken shed ! :-)

4 months ago
Thanks William, I think your comment that "The forest seems to work things out just fine" is just perfect !

I'm a lazy gardener, I leave branches and leaves and organic stuff all over the place, knowing that they'll be just fine where they are and as long as I can walk around them they don't bother me. 

I don't know much about fungi and that's why it's great to have people like Bryant RedHawk in the forum who can give us an explanation of why things work - that gives me (and I'm sure other people) the motivation to learn more about connections and nature. Thanks Bryant.
4 months ago
Almost all of my gardens are planted in an area which was a forest.

I cut down the trees which were damaged or sick and replaced them with fruit and nut canopy trees then gradually with lowers layers of useful and beautiful trees, shrubs and other plants. I left all the roots and use the new whips which grow from them for the protection of vulnerable plants from our poultry and our six dogs.

This was shortly after some of the trees had been cut :

This was the same view six month later :

I now have a mature and thriving forest garden with a few clearings for growing annuals and some new trees.

I'm sure the old trees helped the young ones to become established quickly and the stumps add interest, definition, variety and beauty to the mix.

I tend not to listen to what people say unless I know they've tried things themselves.
4 months ago
From "Once upon a time" land ;-)

We've been off grid for about 27 years and run most of our home using 12v or 24v appliances and as we built our house ourselves, we installed heavy wiring to accommodate the amperage, with all the distribution circuits protected by fuses. I used heavy duty UK plugs and sockets throughout the house.

I don't know where you are and what the laws are but here in France there are (So far) no "norms" or controls applied to DC off grid homes. You just have to learn as much as you need to do the job securely yourself and hope nobody takes any notice of you. We have no mortgage.

We have about 1400 watts of assorted and some quite old solar panels. We run several solar battery systems and use/direct the energy depending on how we are using the (large) house.

Using DC, we run :

A mixture of LED and compact fluo lighting - about 36 light sources
24v chargers for 'phones and tablets
3, 4, (often more), laptop computers using 12v adaptors
24v 120 litre Gram low energy fridge
12V/24V compression fridge/freezer
12v Internet livebox
12v pump for solar water heating system

Using a Victron 24v 800 watt inverter, we can also regularly use : 

450 watt vacuum cleaner
450 watt twin tub washing machine (Hot and cold water fill)
Shearing equipment
2 music systems (Not big boomboom - but they do the job)
Chargers for all our hand tools, computers etc.

All our space heating, cooking, indoor drying and water heating is done using wood or solar with a bit of gas for cooking in the summer.

We run a PDC in late autumn here when it's chilly and there's not a lot of sun; we have around 30 people for about 15 days. The house runs like a "normal" house and people have to be reminded constantly that we're off grid and they need to charge their equipment during the day.

We watch what we're doing with heavy loads (No washing machine, no vacuum cleaning) around the winter solstice but that suits me just fine. :-)
4 months ago