Blessings # 19 – S is for Sunshine

And I have been blessed with some almost every day for the last 3 weeks whilst we have been locked down.

When we were looking for a place to buy we had a wide search area but a clear list of things we wanted – a large plot so we could have a big garden and no neighbours too close, ideally a plot which was empty so we could build a house to suit ourselves, somewhere quiet with clean air. We also wanted to be well above sea-level. We both loved living on the Exe Estuary in Devon but had noticed that the boards which were put across the slipways under the railway tracks were being used more often and built higher, until we began to wonder how long it would be before our village was flooded. But top of the list for John was that the plot should be South facing.

That proved to be a problem. All the building plots were rather mean in size and on the North facing side of the valley or road. The South facing side had been built up first to the end of the area designated for development and now only plots on the north facing side would get planning permission. Had ‘One Planet Developement’ been available we might have looked at that but that came in much later. (To find out what One Planet Developement is all about read my previous post here) When we started looking at plots with buildings on we found that almost all the houses were orientated to face East. After all farm workers needed light in the morning to get up and get to work and possibly some in the evening but during the day they would be busy outdoors! This place was probably built as it was because digging out any more of the hill would have been far to much work for a pair of mere tied cottages!

Had we been able to build to our own design we would have made even better use of the sunny aspect. But we did what we could. Eleven years ago we finally had funds to have solar panels put on the roof. The big array is solar PV which generate electricity. At the time the government were offering good incentives to ramp up solar generation so I get just over 50p for each kilowatt they generate, which in Summer gives me a nice bonus and even in winter gives a little. After a few years they had paid for themselves and they will go on bringing in a tax free amount for the next 14 years. After that it will just be what I get for selling the power to the grid which is very little! But what I use is free and the system is set up so that I use my own power in preference to power from the grid if I am generating. Of course my main need for electricity is in winter but at least I can do my spring cleaning at the moment with a clear conscience. All the extra washing of curtains and covers is using free power!

It is hard to see in the photo because the elder tree was in the way but there are 2 solar thermal panels on the lower roof. They give me hot water when the sun shines so I don’t have to use the heating system so much.

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The derelict shed is attached to the equally derelict cottage next door! Finding a spot where I could take a photo of the roof without too many trees in the way proved tricky now they are coming into leaf!

The lean-to greenhouse is not there because I needed more space to grow under glass. It is to absorb heat when the sun is shining and by opening the windows I can let it inside. Today there is a chilly wind but in there it is hot and the house is toasty without any heating being used.

The last improvement, a couple of years ago, was to have the deck built so that I can sit and enjoy the sun in summer.

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Sun to sit and bask in, sun to heat my home and grow my food, sun to heat the water and sun to run appliances and give me a little bit of extra income – what a blessing!

Permaculture Principles 2 – Catch & Store Energy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy Mum trained as a teacher of Domestic Science in Liverpool during World War 2. It was not good timing for her training because so many things were in short supply and I have to say that her deeply ingrained habits of frugality could be quite trying in the relatively affluent 60’s! Food was, of course, rationed and to throw away leftovers or scraps was literally a crime. Since she was never particularly imaginative or creative this made for some slightly bizarre meals in my teens! Coal too was in short supply as miners became soldiers to be replaced in part by Bevan Boys. But also because moving all those troops around involved trains which ran on coal. Power stations were coal fired too so everyone was encouraged to use all power sparingly. To put the oven on for one dish only was frowned upon – it should be filled by making other things in advance or baking a cake. I still have some of her old books and have acquired reprints of some of the government leaflets of the time. Why? Because they are an interesting historical record but also because they are useful and illustrate this Principle of catching and storing energy.

When permaculture began in Australia a lot of thought was given to catching and storing water before allowing it to move around the holding slowly, seeping into the ground as it went thus avoiding needing well, bore hole or mains water for irrigation.  As someone recently remarked to me, here in West Wales where it rains a LOT we are more concerned with getting rid of water without it causing damage! Instead we often concentrate on catching solar energy using PV panels or the wind with a turbine. Excellent examples of Earth Care but what about the other Ethics. And what if you live in a rented place or expect to sell up and move on? Or if the capital outlay is more than you can afford?

Over the years, thanks to some windfalls, we were able to insulate this house extensively, put up solar PV and solar thermal and have a heating system powered by an Air Source Heat Pump. Lovely. But the single most cost effective improvement was to make thick linings for all the curtains at the windows and put the same system over every external door. Because the curtains are all made of unbleached calico (it comes in wide widths and is cheap) I bought a lot of seconds quality fleece fabric also in cream. It needs no hemming though I did do zigzag stitching all round to make sure. A single header tape allows me to hook them to the back of the curtains in autumn and take them down in spring. They make an amazing difference to the rooms and feel cosy.

So far so good but this principle applies to energy in all its forms. I can think about my own energy and how I use it or waste it. Because my Mum HAD to give up work when she married (women teachers who had a husband to support them made way for men returning from the services – though how many ex military men would have wanted to teach Domestic Science is a moot point!) she was a bored housewife who therefore devoted too much time to keeping the place spotless. It led to a mild form of OCD against which I reacted by becoming very messy. However I now realise that I wasted huge amounts of time hunting for things I had put down ‘somewhere’. I now try to have better storage and put things away, if not as soon as I have finished with them at least having a good clear up fairly regularly.

Having workdays to help me complete big projects in the garden is a way of catching and storing other people’s energy. In fact I usually find that the socialising and camaraderie make group work more efficient than a lot of people working singly. And if someone has a special skill they can use it to the benefit of all. Then I go and help someone else at their workday and the energy flows on and we all get cared for.

The final ethic is fair shares. I have a big garden and can easily, often without meaning to, grow more food than I need. Instead of putting the surplus on the compost heap I can give it away or take it to a local food bank to help others in need. I have been changing my light bulbs for the new LED ones which use even less energy thus reducing my carbon footprint and my use of the planet’s resources.

All these are cheap, simple, little examples which individually do not make a big difference to the Earth or anyone on it. Collectively and if done by many of us they could have a huge impact. They are not glamorous, bring me no kudos, make no waves. As we shall see in a later post ‘Use slow and simple solutions’ is another of the Permaculture Principles.