It seems like ages ago that we started to put up the new vacuum solar tubes. The rain and the corn planting and hay cutting have stopped us getting on with the installation but today we finished it !
I’ve used a photo of a pump as an introduction to today’s blog post because DC pumps like these are really difficult to find – at least in France.
Someone searching the ‘net for a solar powered pump (As I’ve done so often !) will get the information here that they need to find the right pump. The installation and operation manual of our pump is available on the ‘net in the Laing website
Our old flat plate solar collectors worked by thermosiphon – that is the hot water rose and circulated without the need for a pump. (Note the English and the American spellings differ) I prefer that system as there’s nothing to go wrong but as I wanted to put our new panels on the back roof of the conservatory where they wouldn’t be seen which is higher that our hot water cylinder, we couldn’t use thermosyphon and have to pump the hot water around the circuit.
This little pump is powered by a little 20 watt photovoltaic panel which of course only works when the sun shines and the water is being heated – so it’s perfect for a solar water heating system !
The photo above shows Fabrice fitting the last of the 16 vacuum tubes which each heat a little copper bar at the top of them. They fit into a manifold where they heat the water. That was the last step in the fitting process after we’d tested the pump and bled the hot water system.
I haven’t lagged the pipes or insulated the water cylinder yet just in case there’s a leak, so the system isn’t as efficient as it will be when it’s insulated but so far everything is working as planned and the water is warming up nicely.
We have piped “town” water but in our area it’s very expensive and smells of chlorine. I hesitate to use it even on my hair or when I’m washing or dying wool. I may be wrong but I have the impression that the chemicals used to kill the harmful bacteria in the drinking water aren’t good for an organic vegetable garden, so I try to capture as much water as we possibly can to use where we need it.
Where there’s a slope on the land or a roof there’s the possibility of collecting rainwater and over the years we’ve created swales, ponds and drains and amassed quite a collection of barrels and water butts to contain this precious stuff. Buy buying, making or scrounging anything that will hold water we now have a capacity to stock around 12,000 litres in containers. Some of the containers have lasted for years others have failed us miserably. The cheap green ones we bought in a garden centre split after two years even out of the sun but we hope the new ones will last us for some time to come.
Our vegetable garden and the planted areas around our new house have increased dramatically over the past few years. Despite lavish mulching we still need a lot of water for our new fruit trees, shrubs and windbreak plants to keep them healthy and in some cases to keep them alive until they become established. Summers seem to be getting longer and hotter and water is becoming more and more a worry especially when, like us, we really need good crops in the veg plot to be able to feed ourselves all year round. We intend to increase our stockage capacity little by little until we’re collecting enough rain water to never to have to use the hose from our taps.
We’ve built the house and almost all of the sheds at the top of our south facing garden and our system is very basic and gravity fed. Our chickens, geese and the goats and sheep are watered from the roof water and we’ve enough pressure to clean feeders, plant pots and even the pigs appreciate a shower !
Although we have composting toilets outside (and loads of trees!) we’ve flushing toilets inside the house and we have a terrible job to try to persuade visitors to use the outside loos or at least only flush when it’s really necessary. (If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down.) The water in the septic tank isn’t wasted – it waters the shrubs and trees on the shady slope behind the goat shed but it seems a shame to use drinking water to do that. So we’re planning on directing some of the water from the roofs of the extension for use inside the house so that we can wash clothes inside the house and flush the toilets without spending a penny !
This is looking east to the pond which we dug for the rainwater from the house. When we’ve finished building the exterior of the house and using the space as a workshop area, we’ll extend the pond and use the clay for covering the straw inside the house.
This is what the extension looks like at the moment. It’s very square and chunky and even now I can see that the idea that we had of making something which is big on the inside and looks small from the outside is going to work.
Once this face of the house has it’s own terrace and has been clothed in plants and the existing trees around it are underplanted with shrubs the mass of the building will disappear into the undergrowth.
The next important step of the work is tying the top of the building together ready for covering it before winter then making sure that the roof is constructed in exactly the right shape to fit in with the rest of the building – respecting the style of other old farmhouses in the region.
We’re been trying for months to find a good roofer to help Fabrice do this part – but here in rural France that’s easier said than done of course !
The French drains around the house are finished. The pipes are laid holes downwards then filled in with large river stones and covered with geo-textile to keep out the earth and make sure they don’t get clogged up. Fabrice has dug ditches sloping towards a small pond which we’ve dug and we’ll use that to store the rainwater from the roofs and provide a fun area for the geese to play and clean themselves and mate in. We’ll use gravity to take the water overflow in pipes down towards the goat shed and the vegetable garden.
Well made drains will ensure the house stays dry and as it’s been raining a lot it’s been useful to watch where the water goes and make sure the run-off works as it should. In the this part of France we often get storms with very heavy rain and although guttering is useful to direct water where you want it, when the rain is really heavy the gutters can’t contain the water and they overflow and sometimes bend with the weight. At this stage in the building process it’s worthwhile taking the time to get it right.
We’ve been waiting for materials, (August in France is almost in complete shut down) so Fabrice has started facing the walls with stone to match the existing building. This photograph gives a good idea of how it will look.
The back of the extension where the bedrooms will be is getting higher and higher and it’s great standing on the scaffolding looking out of the window spaces at the views into the garden and the woods behind the house. We’ve chosen the windows and got most of the doors, but we’re still deciding about the big window facing West downstairs.
We’ve dug two ponds to capture the rain water, and the new one behind the house filled up during the very heavy rain so we know the drainage system around the house works well.
Last Sunday (Easter Sunday) we sort of had the day off and spent the whole day just walking on our land.
We took the goats down to new grazing, then we checked up on the sheep’s grazing, had a look at the new vegetable garden, the garden at the cabin, then went to see Fabrice’s aunt and uncle and on the return journey had a scout along the valley.
The wildlife is incredible, the woods are full of birdsong and buds and the butterflies are starting to make their appearance. (I should have take more photographs, I know!)
This boar’s skull was cleaned by the crayfish. There used to be a lot in the stream in Bourrou, but we haven’t seen any for a couple of years. A farmer further along the valley pumps water for his polytunnels and when the water level goes below the level of his pond outlet, the stream gets no water. We’ve been doing our best to clear the small springs we find on our land to keep the water running, but we just have to hope that some of the ponds we’ve dug help preserve the wildlife in the valley.
We intend to create more wetlands, dig ditches for springs and clear all the bloomin’ neighbours’ trees which have fallen on our land for the past six or seven years, but it all takes time. It’s an enormous project and we have to content ourselves to do things gradually.
Here’s Max our Border Collie cooling off in the outlet from one of our ponds.
This photo shows about half of our land. (We’ve just over 100 acres at Bourrou.) It was very overgrown when we bought it about 12 years ago, so it was perfect for our Angora goats who’ve done a great job of clearing the brambles and ivy. We originally had about a hundred Angoras, but when they started to nibble the tree barks we knew it was time to reduce the herd! This year we decided not to have kids and although it’s given us a welcome break from the madness of Spring kidding, it’s something I really miss. (Plus the kid Mohair too of course !)
This is the toad that makes the high pitched clook…clook…clook sound you can hear in the evenings. The toad got his name because the male helps the female to lay her eggs. He then carries the eggs until they turn into tadpoles.
This is a male, he certainly looks masculine enough. When we handled him he puffed himself up to twice his size. We put him back into a safer place, I hope he and his brood will be OK.
Have a look at this information from www.planetepassion.com HERE
In Chris’ site, there’s a little recording of the sound they make…clook…clook.
Our chickens free-range everywhere, but we protect our vegetable plot by caging some of the produce or by simply putting sticks around newly planted things like courgettes.
Our chicken shed is simply a huge cage, clad with wood offcuts, and chestnut poles and to make it pretty, I’ve covered it with climbing plants and planted round the edges with shrubs and flowers.
We use empty gunpowder barrels with the lids cut in half for nesting boxes and when the hens start to go broody, we put them into the cage inside the henhouse to make sure that the others don’t try to lay their eggs in a sitting hen’s clutch and to ensure they has peace and quiet for the 21 days it takes for the eggs to hatch. The shed’s in the woods at the back of the house, hidden behind tall trees and bushes and banked against the last terrace of the vegetable garden. The water comes from the roof and is stored in three barrels at the back of the shed. We rarely run out of water.