I was very impressed by the barn which Ben and his friend Ian had built. After a 3 year struggle with the planning department of the National Park which ended only when the planning officer concerned went on sick leave and the locum took a more positive and pragmatic approach, it took them 2 years of working 2 days a week to build.
When the land was being terraced for growing a huge hole was dug out so that a root cellar could be built into the ground. Accessed by a trapdoor so sturdy the tractor can drive over it and which is raised by block and tackle, it maintains a temperature between 8 and 14 degrees throughout the year. Built of concrete blocks but with no tanking, membranes or insulation (except in the ceiling to prevent condensation dripping onto the roots) it is dry but has a humidity of a steady 80% and there are pipes through the walls to ensure good ventilation. Although there is, of course, embedded energy in the construction, none is needed to store their own apples and roots as well as those for sale in good condition for months.
The ground floor is used to thresh dried plant material to extract the seeds so has a polished concrete floor – posh for a barn! It is also Ben’s workshop where he can maintain or repair all the equipment.
The construction is American style studwork. Roundwood framing was considered but making the lap joints reduces the strength of the timber considerably and can result in a weak structure if there are hidden faults in the wood. Stud walls have considerable redundancy built in and can use timber which has knots, shakes and splits. The trees were sourced locally by a friend at neighbouring Brithdir Mawr and delivered to site as whole trunks where they were cut to size by another friend with a mobile sawmill. Frames were constructed on the floor then raised and the whole structure clad in larch which is untreated – apparently treated lasts 21 years and untreated 20! Because it is a workspace the walls are not insulated but the roof is to prevent condensation as in the cellar. Having an uninsulated ‘wiggly tin’ roof on the workshop I can understand how wise that decision was.
Upstairs is the drying room where harvested plants are laid out on tarpaulins to dry before threshing. The windows here are top hung so that they can be left open for ventilation without rain blowing in. There is a cabinet built by Ben which has trays for seeds and a fan blowing air through it to finish the drying process. More about the seed saving process in another post.