Adding rooms

With the approach of the summer and my imminent move – downsizing to a smaller space in Brussels with the departure of my children to study abroad and transferring my cats and some of my furniture to Ransberg – it was time to continue work on the rooms on the first floor.

The first job was placing the ceiling in my future bedroom. As usual, our first reflex was to ask our friends for help. Chrisje did her usual epic paint job to get the ceiling slats ready for placing. Martin stepped up with his carpenting expertise, and Matthieu volunteered to join him as apprentice for a couple of days, to learn more about the craft. With Matthieu came Sophia and his three children on the first weekend, so we were quite festive while we worked! On the second weekend, I stepped in to help out – and learned that men like to work without talking! In the mean time, Ria was busily grandmothering, with granddaughters Pia and Ava on site, helping make biscuits to feed the hungry workers.

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Martin, Toon, Chrisje and Ria all took a big hand in everything else that happened. Placing the insulation, and the fermacell, slathering the brick inner wall with lime plaster and the insulated walls with the finer lime finish, laying the bamboo floor, reducing the entrance to a door-sized hole and fitting the door… I got to help Chrisje oil the floor as a finishing touch. What a gift: a beautiful bedroom, ready for occupation! I moved in towards the end of June, with help from Ria, Toon, and Tom. More about that in another post…

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Once my room was done, attention turned to the front bedroom, which needed to be ready in time to receive our first house guests at the end of July. Pretty much the same cast, only much of the insulation work had already been done in the previous phase of work.

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During August we placed the tadelakt on two walls in the bathroom. A very fascinating – and rather elbow-grease intensive – process. Quite amazing to use such natural materials to create such a beautiful, waterproof finish.

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Harvest

This is indeed a place of abundance. Whenever there’s stuff growing, there’s something to harvest – either to consume or to keep or to reuse.

Riwa & the raspberries

Riwa & the raspberries

Fruit

In the summer months we’re out picking (especially in the raspberry jungles) morning and evening, and spending our evenings surrounded by jars, bottles, pans and colanders, and every imaginable kind of sweetener other than sugar. We make jams, syrups and sauces, we bake, we freeze, we bottle, we juice, we dry, we steep in genever…

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Vegetables

We’re constantly stashing our extras in the freezer, and Chrisje always makes huge pans  of soup so she’s got some over to freeze. When the tomatoes glut, we make and bottle sauces, and our potatoes, beetroot, carrots and root veggies last out the winter in sand. The pumpkins hang around at (unheated) room temperature crying “eat me” until we do. And of course, there are always fresh veggies for lunch when there’s anything growing in the garden.

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Seeds – Beyond collecting seed for next year’s planting and for swapping at seed exchanges, this year we’re experimenting with dried beans to add protein for the winter months. I also love having dried peas to add to my seed mix for salad sprouts – they’re not so easy to find in Brussels health food stores.

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Organic matter – Although not everything that grows is edible, on a permaculture holding everything plays a part. Over half of the land here is not under food crops, but gets a short back-and-sides with the scythe every few months, delivering up beautiful heaps of hay for the apple trees, the fruit and vegetable beds and the humanure processing pile.

Harvesting hay

Harvesting hay

Peelings and food leftovers go to the chicken, who dutifully wolfs them down and converts them into protein in tidy ovoid shells. She also gets the buckets full of apples that just naturally fall into her terrain in late summer and autumn. I suspect that during those months she is permanently tipsy.

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Tipsy chickens

Nor do we despise what many would call ‘weeds’. The omnipresent horsetails and nettles get mixed with the comfrey into potent and evil-smelling food for the veggies. Horsetail tea is also a potent fungicide. The thistles, brambles and ground elder all end up as precious brown compost materials that actually make it into the compost heap, which Ria manages in such a way that there is always compost ready for use when needed.

Rainwater – this might be Belgium, where it always seems to rain, but when you have a garden, you notice the droughts! We can tell the state of play by the amount of water in our little pond – a couple of times this year the frogs have had to take refuge in the mud at the bottom. Slowly but surely we are expanding our water harvesting capacity. Good guttering at front and back of the house, feeding into the rainwater cisterns, and now we’ve even guttered the woodshed. We use the water from the cisterns to flush our one conventional loo and water the garden when it’s dry.

Rainwater harvest from the woodshed roof

Rainwater harvest from the woodshed roof

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Beauty

To my eyes, everything that nature brings forth is beautiful. By contrast, we humans – especially in our more modern manifestations – can be responsible for quite some ugliness… especially with our more utilitarian concrete and metal constructions.

One aspect of what we are trying to accomplish in our experiments here in Ransberg is the co-creation of beauty with nature. What can we humans, with our quirky perspectives and our best intentions, contribute to what nature already does without us?

Here are some glimpses…

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Humanure revisited

Back in 2012, I was extolling the virtues of composting toilets. Our adventures with humanure have continued as… well… our first digestion box filled to the brim with goodness and the dear, brimful yellow buckets started proliferating again.

Proliferating yellow buckets

Proliferating yellow buckets

This state of affairs continued until we were faced with the prospect of no more empty buckets… And that rather motivated these girls to take action!

Not having a handyman handy (like last time), we reverted to our favourite mantra: “What if it’s easy?” Looking around, we found the ingredients we needed: Some of Pedro’s pallets, and some blue nylon string saved from the straw bales now firmly sealed inside the walls of our living space. That’s all it took to cobble together a fine new humanure digestion station down by the wood shed, and within an hour, the yellow buckets were decanted, the huge pile of freshly scythed nettles and brambles were snugly layered between each packet of goodness and the thermometer was victoriously perched on top of the pile.

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Half an hour later and we were again the happy possessors of a row of clean, empty yellow buckets, waiting ready to receive new goodness. Time for a cup of tea and one of Chrisje’s sweet treats…

Another few months' peace of mind!

Another few months’ peace of mind!

 

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Ecotuin dagen – Eco-garden days

Open door...

Open door…

Last year and this year, in June, we opened our garden to the ‘public’ under the auspices of Velt – an association for ecological living and gardening active in Flanders and the Netherlands. Members and non-members alike, including a good smattering of curious neighbours from the village, drifted in and out of our gates for two days, enjoying the weather and the beauty, sharing knowledge, connections and friendship.

In 2013 we welcomed more than 70 visitors (folks are always curious when a new garden comes into the list). This year fewer came, but the rewards to those who did were substantial: herb tea and Chrisje’s divine bluberry tart (made with locally picked blueberries). We also had picture books to show the story of the place and how things have changed since we started – a great source of stories and inspiration.

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The Wood Shed

We started the wood shed back in the summer of 2012. Martin built the basic struture out of wood from the demolition of the outbuildings and some of the old roof beams.

We had loads of discussions about how to roof the shed. As I understood the conversation (not having strong opinions either way), Ria didn’t want the shed to be too tall (at the back) because it would disrupt the view over the valley. Martin didn’t want the shed to be too low (at the front) because, being a tall man, he knows what it’s like to keep bumping your head in places that aren’t spacious. In the end, both had their way, with the result that the slope from back to front of the roof was not steep enough for roof tiles to do their work effectively (you will remember we had PLENTY of roof tiles waiting for a new incarnation).

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So the roof remained in the unmanifest realm until we finally sourced and placed some water-resistant-but-environmentally-friendly ‘onderdak’ panels (I still don’t know the English word!) in September 2013. We used some of the broader planks from the outhouses to side the shed, to keep out the elements. By this time we had also inherited loads of lovely wooden pallets from the neighbour, who was paving his carpark. Those were perfect to create a floor for the shed, to keep the logs and tools out of the wet earth.

Of course then came the work of shifting all the various piles of logs we had built up (I am rather generously including myself in this ‘we’, because I did very little of the work of either building those piles or shifting them into the shed – that somehow always got done while I was off in Brussels. I just got to witness the result, with deep gratitude to the staying power and muscles of my sisters Ria and Chrisje).

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The final touch came this summer, when Ria’s son Toon took time out from working on the first floor in the house to place some tiles on the roof (for aesthetic purposes only!) and put up a gutter and rain barrel to catch all the lovely water that falls from the sky…

Finished at last!

Finished at last!

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Picking up the threads

Friends, I am living witness to what happens when you don’t get round to blogging for a while! Almost a year has passed since I last posted here – and so much has happened since then that I don’t know where to start!

We had some time in the doldrums – no money, so no progress on the work in the house. Just gently moving into the new living space, even before it was finished (nature abhors a vacuum) and becoming more and more comfortable and settled. And of course the land has moved through the seasons, with Ria’s and Chrisje’s tender care and attention to beauty – more about that in another blog.

Some highlights of life in our new living space below:

 

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