Luke Mitchell

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since Feb 04, 2020
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Pembrokeshire, UK
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Recent posts by Luke Mitchell

Those boards look fantastic. I see a lot of recycled plastic 'timber' being used here in the UK - for board walks, benches, planters, signs and bollards. It's expensive to buy and not widely available. I believe, for instance, that the National Park in Pembrokeshire source their recycled plastic from Hereford, a 5 hour round trip. I imagine that they would be cheaper and used more often if there were more producers like yourself
13 hours ago
What a beautiful project and a beautiful setting. Congratulations on your efforts.

From my own experience, I have used WWOOF, Workaway and HelpX as a volunteer. With two exceptions, out of more than 30 projects, I have felt very welcome and left wiser and with very positive memories. I only ever stayed for 10-30 days but I know some people that use those services stay with hosts for 6 months or more - it is, of course, up to the host and volunteer to decide.

You could consider listing your project on those services if that appeals to you. The mindset varies for different volunteers but it seems that most fall into one of three categories:

1. those looking for a way to travel cheaply and have an "authentic" experience of a place
2. those wishing to learn about sustainable agriculture/forestry/etc, often with a mind to setting up or joining a similar project themselves
3. those who want a break from city life

I'm sure there are many more reasons too, but that is a broad (and opinionated!) categorisation from the people I have met.

You could also consider reaching out to projects in nearby cities and offer them use of your space. They could then pass this information on to the people involved with those projects and they might help with the admin and even the insurance.

In London, I know there is a Permaculture Network, a 'Permablitz' and countless smaller projects such as community gardens, foraging groups, herbalism, natural dyers, etc. I'm sure that many of the members of those projects would appreciate the opportunity to visit a project such as yours and feel welcomed. Whether there are equivalent projects closer to you is another question.

Concerning insurance, we have public liability insurance for our land for claims up to £2,000,000. It costs us ~£250 each year. We don't have a large number of visitors but it does mean that we are protected in the event that someone does hurt themselves and decides to sue - or if a tree falls onto someone's car, for example!

If you are hoping to have members of the public on your land regularly it is something to consider and weigh up the cost/benefits of. As I mentioned earlier, you might be able to receive a contribution to cover insurance costs from those benefiting.

I hope there is something of use there.
1 day ago

Jane Mulberry wrote:I am in Europe, so I don't think Milwaukee is easily available here, though Makita is. I have a bow saw but will need to be doing a lot of tree cutting. No big timber, I won't try to tackle anything bigger than 6" diameter, and will probably stick to far smaller branches and trees to start. I love hand tools, but realistically will have to buy a medium sized electric chainsaw, one with batteries that are interchangeable with the drill.

I spent much of the first year on our land working with bow saws and pruning saws. Whilst it is peaceful, it is hard on the body and I feel as though I damaged myself by not listening to my self (wrists and shoulder). We bought a Makita 18v electric chainsaw (DUC256Z) and, whilst it's not the most powerful thing, for branch wood and the occasional fell, it feels much faster and safer than using hand tools - being able to complete a felling cut quickly, rather than battling with a hand tool as you tire (and the tree becomes less supported). It does use battery fairly quickly though so it pays to have a few available (we have 4 5Ah ones).

We also have a 2x18v Makita strimmer/brushcutter (DUR369AZ) and that has been very useful for keeping down brambles around our boundaries. We dispensed with the nylon strimmer head and use the metal blade exclusively to avoid spreading plastics around.

In terms of power tool brands, much has been said on that already. Most people in the UK that I know have either Makita or DeWalt for their cordless tools. I picked Makita as it is what my close friends were using and it made it easy to share batteries/tools. For what it is worth, I think their tools tend to be of pretty high quality as long as you pick the higher-end models. Builders and contractors often have really high-end tools like Hilti and Festool but they are out of my budget and I've not found any good second-hand offers.

On batteries, we got 2x 5.0Ah batteries as part of a cheap drill promotion at Screwfix (a UK hardware store, for those elsewhere). I think it was £130. I then re-sold the drill and kept the batteries which are usually closer to £100 each.

Car boot sales and Facebook marketplace have been great sources of hand tools for us. I believe there are flea markets in Bulgaria that often sell old farming tools so that might be worth a look when you are over there. I imagine there are some bargains to be had.

My "desert island tools" list would be as follows:

- Long-handled loppers
- Secateurs
- Strong space for digging (I have a Faithfull all-steel trenching spade that is great and has a good warranty, which I have had to use once; I also have a few old Elwell spades for lighter work)
- Strong fork for digging out stones, roots and turning muck/soil (again, all-steel might be the way to go, although older forks/spades with decent ash handles are a joy to use)
- Shovel for moving woodchip/soil/mulch
- Long-handled trowel (like a regular trowel but more versatile)
- Spring-tine rake for grass/leaves (might not be necessary in Bulgaria?)
- Fixed-tine rake for stones, preparing seed bed and moving large piles of debris
- Pruning saw (we have a few Silky PocketBoy saws and they are excellent; the Stihl ones are also v. good)
- Hoe (I like a draw hoe but everyone seems to have a favourite)
- Barrows, buckets and trugs

From what I've seen online, there seem to be lots of billhooks, sickles, axes and similar tools that are traditional to Bulgaria. An assortment of those may be useful for clearing and for coppicing and processing wood.

You might also consider a few good lengths of rope and some shade cloth for creating shadier microclimates.
2 weeks ago
Nancy, that looks like great fun! One of my aims this year is to improve the microfauna in our soul and I hadn't even considered looking at what was already there - which seems ridiculous now!

I hope you manage to find a way to connect a camera before too long as I'd love to see some photos. I'm sure I'm not alone in that!

Have you looked into 3D printed adaptors? You could try searching thingiverse (a repository for printable models) for your microscope model to see if someone has made one. It might be a cheap and easy solution.
3 weeks ago
I once stayed at a project (Buddha Gardens) in Auroville, India, where they grew pineapples. They cut the tops about a centimeter or so below the top of the fruit and let this, with it's green leaves attached, to dry out for a week or so before placing it on the soil to root.
3 weeks ago

Mike Haasl wrote:
Thanks Luke, I struggled with wheels and wagons.  I know they're very hard to make well.  So I think they're out of the scope of a young person looking to inherit land.  Sure it's a tremendously impressive skill but I thought it was too in-depth.  Maybe making a simple wheel would work but I'm not sure it's worth the trouble.  You spend a few hours making a crappy wheel and then it doesn't really work well enough to use.  You kinda learned something but you probably wasted more time.  I dunno....

I absolutely agree.

Perhaps my post was confusing but I was trying to suggests why I felt that many ancient skills focused on transporting things without wheels - they were incredibly expensive, difficult to make and repair and, for much of their history, beyond the reach of "normal" people (who were more likely to roll/drag/carry things).

I'm glad you found the ember suggestion helpful.

Good luck with this project, I look forward to seeing it develop
1 month ago

Kenneth Elwell wrote:Transport could have a sled? dogsled, sledge for heavy things...

I had a similar thought when I read the OP and I have a few suggestions for expanding the transport section.

Wheels have been expensive for much of history and, later, there was an entire branch of the economy that grew up around their repair and construction (at least in Europe, I'm afraid my knowledge of historic America is quite limited).

People made do with carrying, dragging, rolling or floating as much as possible.

You could consider including:

  • Floating a log downstream
  • Moving a large timber or building stone by rolling it on felled poles
  • Trussing and carrying a large bundle of sticks for a fire
  • Carrying an ember to move a fire*

  • * for this, I know the very early Europeans would use certain fungi (King Alfred's Cakes is one, Horses' Hoof or Amadou another) to hold an ember. By blowing on the ember or swinging it as they walked, it could be kept glowing for hours.
    1 month ago
    Hi Alex,

    Personally, I would be wary of leaving black plastic in the sun. That sounds like a recipe for microplastics that will end up in your compost. Even "UV stable" plastics will break down in direct sun, over time.

    As for your question about composting the weed seeds, a big enough, hot enough compost heap will have no problem composting and sterilising the seeds. This link suggests 120-150 F will be sufficient to kill off the weed seeds and plant diseases.

    If you have access to fresh manure (chicken or duck works particularly well), you could heap that over the top of the weeds to create a hot compost heap. The fresh manure gives off a lot of heat as it decomposes. Cow or pig manure, or horse bedding, work well too. Alternatively, a plant-based source would be grass cuttings, hay, or straw soaked in urine or comfrey tea.

    You could even exacerbate the heat if you can salvage an old window or a piece of glass to place over the top - just be careful of the possible fire risk.

    If the compost starts to cool and you are worried that it hasn't reached the requisite temperatures, you could always use it in an area of the garden that you are less precious about as a sort of quarantine. If it grows well, and doesn't give rise to a large number of weeds, you could move it. Otherwise, cover it up to kill off the weeds and use it as a base for a lasagna/hugel style bed.

    Actually, as I write this it occurs to me that you could do that from the offset. Weed seeds will need light to germinate and, if you can cover the compost (and keep it covered) with a thick layer of mulch or topsoil, it will enrich the ground without the weeds growing.
    1 month ago
    This sounds like a great project! I look forward to seeing how it progresses.

    Have you considered adding an indication of whether the heat source is in-cycle or not? What I mean by this is whether the carbon dioxide released by the fuel source will be reabsorbed in a similar fashion.

    Wood, for example, is in-cycle and any carbon dioxide released will eventually be sequestered by more trees as they grow. This assumes that trees are replanted at the same rate that they are felled, or managed via coppicing or pollarding. Natural gas, oil and fossil fuels are out of cycle and won't be replenished for many millennia. Methane can be both in-cycle or out-of-cycle, depending how it is produced (gathered from anaerobic digestion of food waste or animal slurry it is in-cycle).

    It might be a deviation from the project you had in mind - in which case please ignore me! I just thought it might be an interesting addition to note.

    It might be that burning diesel in a heater (10.9kg/l, or about 50kg/gallon) emits less CO2 than heating the space with wood *but* the CO2 from the wood will be reabsorbed far sooner, essentially offsetting that emission over time. I try and do my own, informal carbon accounting with such things in mind.

    Best of luck with this!
    1 month ago
    If they are indeed cast iron (and as L. Johnson says, you should be able to tell from their weight), my best guess is that it is ash. I have had seasoned cast iron turn white when exposed to a really hot fire - it burned off all of the oil and food reside and turned it to ash.

    If the weight/magnet tests fail then my best guess is that it is magnesium or aluminium. Aluminium oxidises to form a white powder which you may have seen on old cookware, window frames or door furniture.

    I have vintage Le Crueset pans which are cast iron with an enamel coating. The enamel is thick and I can't imagine how it would burn off in a domestic oven - I imagine you'd need a pottery kiln to touch it.

    It's worth noting that metals can be pretty bad for your health and it would be worth wearing a respirator or mask when removing the white powder. Cast iron is fairly inert, although I wouldn't want to ingest large amounts of that either!
    1 month ago